The Pack (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Tough chick Charlotte (Émilie Dequenne) picks up a hitcher named Max (Benjamin Biolay) when three bikers are on her tail. Although she is reserved toward him initially, there is something about Max that she feels is different from other guys. Soon, Max ends up behind the wheel. As she sleeps, he pulls over at a saloon so they can get coffee. Max gets up to use the restroom; Charlotte plays an arcade game from two feet away.
Having noticed that it has been quite a while she she saw her friend, she checks the restroom and he is nowhere to be found. She finds it bizarre: the bathroom windows are the kind that cannot be opened without breaking the glass and she would have noticed if he went out the front door. She decides to break into the saloon later that night.
Written and directed by Franck Richard, “La meute” is beautifully shot, especially in capturing the eeriness of the provincial outdoors and murkiness of the unkempt indoors, but the template of the story lacks both genuine thrills as well as an explanation that justifies the supernatural phenomena introduced some time in the middle. The strange goings-on drives the picture’s latter third and it reduces the characters to using guns to defend themselves.
Although the first half consists of ugly torture scenes, at least it made me feel something. What is done to Charlotte, especially her stint on “the chair,” made me feel squeamish because she seems to have very little hope of escaping. She is tough and she is unafraid to use opportunities to her advantage but her captors are just too experienced. Her best hope is a retired cop, Chinaski (Philippe Nahon), with whom she conversed with prior to her disappearance. Although he is smart, his physicality leaves much room for doubt.
When the secret involving blood-eating monsters that live in a slag heap are revealed, the story fails to move past it. They appear, they bite off limbs, people scream out of pain, and then disappear until the next night. We learn nothing about their strengths and weaknesses, their purpose, and how or if the summoners benefit from being of service. We are given one line about the Earth having to be fed (or something of that sort) but that is it. Sure, the monsters look scary but after looking at them for five minutes, they cease to be interesting.
I wanted to know more about the woman (Yolande Moreau) who helps Charlotte and Max out of a prickly situation and driving away the bikers off her tavern. I liked the way she wobbles about from one area to the next but still maintaining a level of mystery. Moreau seems more than capable of creating a complex character so it is most unfortunate that the writer-director does not give her very much to work with.
“The Pack” does not work because it is uneven tonally. Most importantly, there is a consistent lack of convincing transition between prickly situations; it never looks deeply into the possibility that something supernatural might be at play. One cannot be blamed for tuning out eventually and poking fun of what is going on instead of remaining to invest and engage in the main character’s plight.