'The Pack' (2016)

The Pack
© IFC

Synopsis: A pack of wild dogs terrorizes a family on a remote Australian farm. 

Cast:  Anna Lise Phillips, Jack Campbell, Katie Moore, Hamish Phillips

Director: Nick Robertson

Studio: IFC Midnight

MPAA Rating: NR

Running Time: 90 minutes

Release Date: February 5, 2016 (in theaters and on demand)

The Pack Movie Trailer

The Pack Movie Review

The concept of a roaming pack of killer dogs conjures images of a campy SyFy movie of the week, but the Australian film The Pack (NOT a remake of the 1977 film of the same name, despite the similar plot) is a surprisingly serious-minded affair about a harrowing night of terror.

The Plot

The Wilsons -- parents Adam and Carla, plus 17-year-old Sophie and 10-year-old Henry -- live on a remote farm that's on the verge of foreclosure, but their financial troubles take a backseat one evening when a pack of wild dogs that's been killing local livestock for weeks sets its sights on the family. With the ravenous beasts surrounding the house -- some even finding their way inside -- and police miles away, the Wilsons must put aside their differences in order to survive the night.

The End Result

Despite the corny, oddly phrased text that opens the film ("Around the world, packs of wild dogs roam freely, killing at will. Now they have developed the taste for a new prey..."), The Pack quickly settles into a straightforward, serious-minded siege tale like or Night of the Living Dead with a canine twist. With little extraneous plot -- just the threat of foreclosure and a bit about how restless Sophie yearns to break away from farm life -- this is lean storytelling that doesn't bother trying to explain why the dogs are marauding (i.e., there's no comet suddenly turning the dogs into man-eaters); it just focuses on the dilemma and how the family deals with it.

On one hand, it's a refreshing approach that eliminates any potential for plot clutter, but on the other hand, the shallow story could've added some semblance of depth by showing, for example, the dogs being driven by man-made development encroaching on their territory -- thus, providing some environmental commentary.

Or perhaps the writers could've tried to give the characters any sort of arc. The mother and daughter at least have a bit of conflict over Sophie's desire to move to the city, but the father and son basically do nothing throughout the movie except fight the dogs.

As characters, the dogs are frankly more impressive than the people. They're possibly the most intimidating pooches in horror film history -- granted, the fluffy Cujo and the ridiculous zombie Doberman Pinschers in Resident Evil don't set the bar very high. Because to many, dogs are inherently viewed more as pets than as monsters, the filmmakers go out of their way to present these canines as coldblooded killers, with closeups and quick cuts that emphasize their snarling, throat-ripping nature and sound effects that make them sound more like tigers than dogs. Most noticeably, you never hear the dogs whimper or squeal in pain when they're shot, bludgeoned or stabbed; they're emotionless killing machines that will smash through glass windows at the drop of a dime in order to taste your sweet human flesh.

Because of how well the animals are presented, first-time director Nick Robertson, aided by the gorgeous cinematography of Benjamin Shirley that emphasizes the lush, engulfing wilderness, is able to deliver a rousing experience that remains grounded enough in reality to deliver tense thrills -- along the lines of a home invasion flick like .

The attractiveness of the package and the steady pace at which it doles out the action more than make up for the character shortcomings in one of the best animals-run-amok horror movies in recent memory.

The Skinny

  • Acting: C+ (Good, not great; a couple of strange scenes in which it's hard to read the emotions being conveyed.)
  • Direction: B+ (Attractively shot, atmospheric, harrowing.)
  • Script: C+ (No-frills story that allows the action to speak for itself, at the cost of character development.)
  • Gore/Effects: B- (Solid gore; excellent animal effects.)
  • Overall: B- (A straightforward thrill ride that refreshingly takes its concept seriously, forcing us to do the same.)

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