The Pack (2015): Wild Dogs Down Under (Review)

The Pack screen shot.

The Pack is an ensemble horror film that features a family of four trying to survive a pack of wild dogs intent upon killing and eating them.  This offering from the land down under may be slow paced but it piles on the suspense and provides just enough gore to be effective.

The film was helmed by Nick Robertson (his first effort as director) and written by Evan Randall Green and stars a couple of “Home and Away” alumni – Jack Campbell and Anna Lise Phillips. Campbell and Phillips play the parents, Adam and Carla. Newcomers Hamish Phillips and Katie Moore play brother and sister Henry and Sophie. 

The Wilson family are going through tough times. Sophie wants to leave the country and is rebelling against both parents. Adam and Carla are one step away from losing their sheep farm after scores of the animals have been viciously slaughtered.

A loan officer from the bank stops by to threaten foreclosure and offers the couple an insulting sum of money to buy the property. If the Wilson’s refuse they will have 48 hours to move out and will lose everything. Adam turns the bank official down and throws him off the property.

Meanwhile the wild dogs, having run out of sheep are on the prowl for something new to eat.

The Pack does rely a bit on stereotypes to sell the film.  The rebellious teen, the stubborn farmer, the supportive wife and the financially struggling farm. While the characters are a bit two dimensional it does not hurt the film as they all become something different when the animals attack.

In terms of violence, the attacks by the dogs are impressive. While there is not a lot of blood splashed about the ferocity of the animals is quite frightening. The feral creatures head straight for the throat with speed and focus. One feels that in real life the victim would be dead in a moment.

The house used for filming is beautiful as is the surrounding scenery. Nickerson has shot a film that, when it is not cranking the tension up, looks gorgeous and terrible. The nighttime scenes thrust the viewer back into childhood and that fear of what we cannot see clearly.

Perhaps the only note of complaint would be the animals themselves. Each one looks identical to the other and they also resemble those black collies used in sheep herding.  Of course the veterinarian of the film Carla,  does mention interbreeding so that may account for it plot wise. In all likelihood though it is most likely because of budgetary constraints.

The Pack moves at a leisurely pace. At an hour and a half, 90 minutes, it should feel too long but it does not.  The action is not all frantic retaliation for the attacks but a combination of stealth and ingenuity as the family fight back.

As most of the attacks take place after dark the lighting has been set up to keep from losing anything in the gloomy surroundings.  This is especially impressive considering that the dogs are black.

This is straight forward horror. There is no sting in the tail ending with an O.Henry twist. The audience get what they came for with this one, a scary suspenseful film that despite the slower pace moves along very well.

It would be interesting to see this film set in America. As Australia has stricter gun laws the farmer has one rifle with only a few rounds of ammunition to fight off the pack of feral dogs. In the USA the same chap would probably have an arsenal in his house and the film would have been very different.

The Pack is a solid 4 stars for working brilliantly despite its reportedly  low budget.  It is streaming on Netflix at the moment and is well worth a look…or two.

Bait 2012 Jaws in a Grocery Store

Bait 2012

I finally broke down and watched the Australian/Singaporean horror film Bait. In a film that can be best described as Jaws in a grocery store, my sights weren’t aimed very high.

But, I was surprised to find, I liked it.

Directed by Kimble Rendall and starring, sort of,  Julian McMahon  of  Nip/Tuck fame (who looks like he’s had a nip or a tuck, or at the very least a shed load of Botox) and a host of Australian character actors it was actually fairly entertaining.

It might have something to do with my low expectations going in. Although, to be honest, I always try to keep them low  when watching any film, it tends to make them all that bit more enjoyable. At the heart of the movie it is just an old-fashioned disaster film that, in this case, takes the recent (and somewhat disturbing) trend of tsunami films and adds in a few great white sharks.

The film opens with a couple of good looking Aussie fellas (read the previous sentence with an Australian accent, it helps set the mood) who are lifeguards. One is extremely hungover from his bachelor party the night before and his best mate goes out to “set the buoy” in the water.

Hangover boy goes to see his fiancé who happens to be his best mates sister. While they are visiting, a great white shark makes a snack of an old loud mouthed swimmer and then goes on to his best mate. In the best tradition of shark films everywhere, the best mate gets almost  rescued before he dies.

Fast forward and hangover boy has obviously lost the girl and works in a grocery/department store and Julian McMahon is about to rob it. As soon as the action starts (the robbery action) everything is interrupted by a tsunami.

We are then treated to some jolly good Aussie stereotypes who are trapped in the store with one man-eating monster and a trio of more stereotypes who are trapped in the underground car park. The action moves between the two groups until near the end of the film.

All the characters were fun except for McMahon. His biggest problem was his accent. He didn’t (again, read this bit with an Australian accent) “sound like a Yank” and he didn’t sound like “an Aussie.” No one even brought up the fact that this robber wasn’t a local lad.

Okay, so they were all trying to keep away from a giant great white shark, but hey, his accent was pretty noticeable. I could not for the life of decide if he’d been living in Australia in real life and his accent was just the result or if he was trying to sound Australian.

Either way, it was a bit off putting.

Still, accent problems aside (as well as the fact that the film was obviously film for 3D, which I don’t have) the film did one thing very well, it entertained.

All the characters were pretty much two dimensional and for some reason that didn’t bother me. To be honest, to expect multi-layered characters in what was essentially a disaster film is being a bit foolhardy, not to mention optimistic. If you want depth, go watch Oliver’s King Hamlet.

Besides, if you’re going to keep killing your cast off,  just how deep do you want them to be?

The film looked great. The cinematography was crisp and looked so inviting that even after the tsunami hit, I wanted to head over there and throw a few more “shrimp on the barbie.”

I’d have to say that this was a 4 out of 5 stars just for the entertainment value (and the novelty) of sharks in a car park and a grocery store.

A fun film to watch.

jaws in a grocery store

Uninhabited (2010): No Love for this Film

Every once in a while you find a film that for some reason has invited lots of vitriol to be heaped upon it. Uninhabited is one of those films. If you type the name into your Google search engine you’ll see what I mean. But, come on guys. Is it really that bad? I’ve reviewed much worse films than this one. It seems that a lot of folks don’t like the “based on true events” tag that the film used. But, if you search long enough (about 5 minutes, for me) you’ll find it is based on a “local” urban legend.

Written and directed by Bill Bennett, Uninhabited has a damned small cast. It features, at one point, four whole people on the screen at once. But for the record, there are only six actors in the entire film including Mr Bennett himself in a cameo at the beginning and end of the film.

The cast list is as follows:

Geraldine Hakewill Beth
Tasia Zalar Coral
Henry James Harry
Billy Milionis Spiro
Bob Baines Jackson
Terry Siourounis Elias

*Courtesy IMDb.*

The film starts with Beth and Harry being taken out to an island that is just one of many along the Great Barrier Reef. They are to be there for 10 days and it is a romantic little get away for them. They will be the only people on this small island.

Now the actors playing Beth and Harry are attractive young people, although, Henry James has a mole on his back the size of a small country that was really off-putting during a romantic sensual “roll-in-the-sand” clinch early in the film. Unfortunately, most folks that watched the film did not feel the two had much in the way of chemistry together.

Looking great, but not too smart…

I agree to a large extent, it did seem to be a case of opposites attracting, but, they didn’t entirely stink together. Their main problem was that they just did not come across as the sharpest tools in the shed; which was interesting as she was supposed to be a marine biologist. If he gave any indication as to what his occupation was, I did not hear it.

The plot is fairly straight forward. They go on this “deserted” island and find that it is haunted by a girl ghost. So far, so mundane; but, this ghostly girl is really pissed off. It seems that when she was alive she stepped on a “deadly” Rockfish (I don’t know how deadly these things are, but they are most certainly one of the ugliest species I’ve ever seen) and as she lay dying in agony, seven men raped her. Now she prowls the island killing unsuspecting people stupid enough to stay there.

The movie works okay, in the realms of creepy, Bennett pulls this off well with an eerie soundtrack (although as a lot of folks pointed out, it can be a bit irritating at times) and he makes use of the islands sounds to crank up the tension. Lots of rustling leaves, snapping twigs and far-off screams of the female variety all make for a gradual rise in the young couple’s fear factor.

They repeatedly search the island for what they assume are some pesky kids and find nothing. They eventually stumble upon an ancient shack that they have somehow managed to miss each and every time  they explored the island before. They also discover a visitor’s log that they missed the first time they entered the cabin.

This log helpfully tells the story of Coral (the young girl in the legend) and explains the “grave” outside the shack. The two finally decide that they want off the island and go to get their satellite phone and it’s (gasp) missing. It all goes downhill from there. Harry decides that two foreign men who are shooting fish (?) in the ocean are the culprits and stupidly antagonizes them. The part that he seemed to disregard was the shooting of the fish; you do not antagonize men with guns.

It turns out quite badly for all concerned, but, the movie does not end there. My description of the plot does though as I don’t want to give the ending away. Although if you haven’t guessed the ending by this point in the film, you must have been sleeping through it.

And this is why we don’t piss off the two foreign men with guns.

A lot of complaints had to do with the clichéd nature of the film. I do have to agree a bit. There is a scene early on that might as well have had a sign that was in bright neon lights saying, “THIS WILL SHOW UP LATER IN THE FILM! ATTENTION: IMPORTANT PLOT POINT HERE!”

But really, apart from the fact that the two leads were hired apparently because they were attractive young people, the film was not that bad. I’ve seen and reviewed much worse. At least the film was not what my daughter Meg calls “horn” which is a standard mix of sex, senseless nudity, and horror. The body count is very low for a horror/ghost film and the gore is minimal. There is also not a trace of nudity, unless you count near nudity because of the swimsuits, and no sex.

The biggest complaints seem to come from the ‘true events’ tag (as I said earlier) but, guess what? It is. The young lady in question (Coral) was actually named Lola and she did die on an island and the “cabin” is actually in a museum somewhere in Australia. When Bennett heard the story, he wrote the screenplay.

I honestly believe that if you watch the film expecting a ghost story, which it is, and do not expect to see buckets of blood and entrails strewn across the screen, you’ll find it isn’t that bad. An easy 3.5 stars out of 5 just for the effective use of sound to build up the tension; trust me, (as I said at the beginning of this review) there are much worse films out there than this.

If you go into the woods…eventually you will find a cabin.

Long Weekend: Horror in the Outback

Directed by  Colin Eggleston (b:1941 – d:2002) Long Weekend is a piece of low budget genius.  This was only the second feature film helmed by Eggleston and despite the fact that the film bombed in Australia, it went on to win five awards. Part of the reason the film did so badly was probably down to the public placing it in the category of “Ozploitation.”

 John Hargreaves and Briony Behets play Peter and Marcia a young urban couple who are going on holiday. We notice very quickly that Peter and Marcia are a “chalk and cheese” couple. Peter has decided that they are going to ‘rough it’ on a beach in the outback. Marcia has her heart set on staying in a nice hotel somewhere. Somewhat begrudgingly Marcia agrees to try the camping trip idea, but with the proviso that if she really doesn’t like it they can spend the rest of the holiday in a hotel.

From the minute they get into their Jeep and start driving, we the audience can feel the tension between the couple. This tension fluctuates through most of the film and even before Peter runs over a ‘Joey’ leaving it to die in the road, we get a sense of foreboding. A feeling that this trip is not really a good idea.

Long Weekend is mostly a “fish-out-of-water” film. Peter and Marcia do not belong in the countryside.  City dwellers first and foremost they really have no idea what they should be doing once they reach their ‘supposed’ destination.  On their way to the beach they get lost, mainly because the locals at the petrol station do not go out of their way to give them directions, but also because they are careless.

Both Peter and Marcia have a complete disregard about the wildlife they encounter and it’s  natural habitat. John Hargreaves as Peter shows us a man who is basically selfish and immature. He thinks nothing of killing the local flora and fauna or leaving his litter scattered about the previously pristine area.

Brioney Behets (who was married to the director at the time) gives Marcia an edge, a feeling of loss and the willingness to bridge the distance between her and Peter. Initially we sympathize Marcia but unfortunately she suffers from the same problems as Peter, selfishness and immaturity. She also has little respect or knowledge of how the countryside works. They are both completely out of their comfort zone and it shows. But only Marcia is smart enough to vocalise her fear and distaste of the great outdoors.

The only time in the film the two characters unite is in their mutual fear of a huge black shape in the water. Marcia hears a downright scary cry or call from an unknown animal. She goes down to the beach to tell Peter and she sees the black shape moving towards him. Marcia begins screaming hysterically for Peter to get out of the water. Peter, in true urban fashion, shoots the black shape repeatedly.

I can honestly say that when I first watched this film, it made me so uneasy that even I did not want to venture into the great outdoors and I grew up there. The sense of foreboding that we feel at the beginning of the film hits fever pitch after the couple arrive at their destination.  When nature begins to exact a toll from the couple for their criminal behaviour, fever pitch rises to a frenzy.

Long Weekend was remade in 2008 and it is almost a complete frame for frame re-imaging, of the original, but the remake, believe it or not, cranks up the action considerably. It is one of the few remakes that I enjoyed as much as the original.

But I leave you with one request, if at all possible, watch the original first.