AUGUST 29, 2010
What is it with actor Philippe Nahon? Why must he continue to star in French horror films that are great until the final moments, where a boneheaded screenwriting decision undoes most of what works about the film*? While it's not as crippling as High Tension's twist, the final reveal of The Pack (French: La Meute) is actually worse of an idea, because unlike the other film, it doesn't seem like a botched execution was the problem here - it's just a stupid, stupid idea.
Though I guess it IS a bit botched too, because it's hard to tell where the ending fits. I'm going to spoil it, so stop reading if you want to be annoyed then instead of now! See, the final shot of the film reveals that a chunk of what we just saw was actually a dream, but it's a bit muddled as to where the dream path began. The character wakes up still tied to a device we saw her on about halfway through the film, but next to her is a burned shack, which is something that happened much later. But either way, it nullifies what was a pretty great, unexpected and ballsy ending. It's sort of like The Descent's two endings if they were in reverse... as if we saw Sarah trapped inside talking to her daughter, and then woke up in her car.
But until that point, this is a pretty kick-ass French survival horror film, but with the added bonus of zombie/mutant things that live in the earth and are awoken when blood is spilled over their resting place. It's effectively gory, surprisingly humorous, and was definitely one of the few films at, ahem, FRIGHTfest that actually had some frights. And that is largely due to the multiple standard situations at the top of the film, before anything really bad happens. Our heroine (the very fetching Émilie Dequenne) picks up a hitchhiker, is menaced by some bikers, meets a seemingly kindly woman, and seeks help from the local sheriff. Writer/director Franck Richard does a fine job of making it unclear who is on who's side in these early parts. It's like, we KNOW that some of these nice folks are villains, but not which, nor do we know who is working with who. Are the bikers part of the gang, or just some random assholes? Is the sheriff's hick demeanor an act? I must admit I was surprised when we finally learn he true nature of some characters. Plus, some turn out to be allies anyway, which made it even more interesting.
The film also has one of the best all-time "flashback to explain how a character managed to get the drop on another character" sequences. Someone is subdued, and then we see how they did it... but an additional flashback shows that the "subdued" character came prepared. It's a delightful surprise that I just ruined for you. But whatever, I told you before that I was going to spoil the end, so what's it matter if I spoil the middle?
And again, I loved that it had humor. I love most French horror films that I see, but none of them are particularly humorous in any way (Inside was a real knee-slapper, eh). Calvaire (which is similar at times, and also featured Nahon) is probably the only other one I can think of off the top of my very jet-lagged and sleep deprived head that made me laugh out loud, and even that pales to this one. The hitchhiker's reaction to Dequenne's warning not to try to make a move on her is an A+ classic, and Nahon gets in a few chuckles as well (not to mention always wears the same profane shirt that he seemingly borrowed from Hugh Grant's roommate in Notting Hill). And the obvious question that comes after a disembodied head flies through the window might be my favorite dry response to something odd since Severance's "You found a pie?"
There's also a bit of Psycho in the film, in more than one way. Our heroine is largely MIA for a while as we focus on the villains, which is very much in the vein of Hitchcock's trick (and if she does indeed dream the entire 2nd half of the movie, one could even see it as even more like Psycho, as she would in fact have been incapacitated around the same point). Also, the villains are essentially a mother and son who are holding on to a dying business, with the son being torn between his domineering mother and his attraction to a female newcomer. Like I've mentioned before, I always like seeing that our films are obvious influences on others, especially nowadays as the American horror films are so often inspired (or flat out remakes) of foreign horrors, i.e. the recent Finale, which is essentially an American attempt at Argento-style surreal horror, or the number of humorous "slacker" zombie films that came along after Shaun of the Dead.
It's a shame that Frightfest showed this one first thing of the day, as that meant a smaller crowd. Speaking on the authority of someone who saw all but ONE film that showed on the main screen (two if you count Tobe Hooper's 1969 hippie drama Eggshells, which was showing while I watched Burning Bright on the smaller screen), I truly believe The Pack was one of the best films at the festival, yet it was the one I feel I discussed the least with all my new friends, since almost none of them had seen it. Plus, and I will talk about this more as I continue my review coverage, the abundance of torture/revenge type films got depressing after a while - this being one of the few "fun" movies, it would have been nice to have at night, or at least in between two of the overly serious or revenge-y ones that made up the bulk of the fest's offerings.
What say you?
*I just discovered that he has been in over 50 movies since High Tension, and thus for all I know this could be the only other one that even HAS a twist, let alone a shitty one.