When the independent Charlotte (Emilie Dequenne) picks up hitchhiker Max (Benjamin Biolay), they seem to have a lot in common. They both have a similar alternative outlook on life and when they stop at La Spack café for a bite to eat, he gallantly comes to her defence when she is harassed by lecherous, violent bikers. Max then disappears and the director sets up a nice little mystery when Charlotte is unhappy with the café owner’s explanation.
Director Franck Richard keeps you guessing before arriving at a demonic explanation about halfway through. Aesthetically and thematically we’re in American hillbilly horror territory, even down to the word ‘Texas’ on the gate to the café, and the station-wagon driven by Charlotte. In fact at times when I was watching this strong female character searching for answers in the poor rural environment I felt like I was watching a schlock horror version of the recent Winter’s Bone.
I’m not sure why anyone would still want to make a film in this style but the tension rises throughout the first two thirds, and it’s unfortunate that it struggled to maintain the sense of dread for the final act and instead went for an action set-piece. To its credit, as a homage to American seventies horror, the film works far better than any of the Hollywood remakes of recent years. I wouldn’t have thought anyone could do anything in this vein that would hold my attention for 90 minutes, but through some decent characters (including a wonderful local off-duty sheriff) you’re not simply waiting for elaborate deaths to happen, you’re genuinely hoping they don’t.
It’s unfortunate that the film ends with a misjudged shoot-out and a badly explained twist that leaves you feeling you may have wasted your time investing interest in the story. Saying it compares well with American mainstream horror may be a backhanded compliment, but there is more to like than dislike in The Pack.