Review: Dog Pound (2010)

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Cast: Adam Butcher, Shane Kippel, Mateo Morales
Director: Kim Chapiron
Country: France | Canada | UK
Genre: Drama
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Notes: Dog Pound opens in limited release today, March 29th. If you’ve already seen the film we’d love to hear your thoughts on it, or if you’re looking forward to seeing it this weekend, please tell us in the comments section below or in our new Next Projection Forums.

It’s not until the very last seconds of its closing credits that Dog Pound formally identifies itself as a remake of the horrifying British prison film Scum, but those familiar with the remarkable difficulty of that 1979 classic will have long since spotted this new incarnation’s efforts to recreate its sheer brutality, both physical and emotional. Alan Clarke’s film—a remake itself, of his own rejected television production from two years prior—is one of the true genre greats, a visceral and challenging look at the borstal system that gave the world its introduction to the gruff demeanour of Ray Winstone.

Taming the indulgent weirdness of that earlier feature, Chapiron here finds an appropriate channel for his particular skills, the fearless immediacy of his handheld framing thrusting us into the heart of this story along with the three inmates whose indoctrination opens the film.

dog3As translatable a narrative as it is—juvenile offenders hardly a group confined to one temporal or geographic setting—this revival of Scum in the new context of contemporary America seems a strange move for a French-Canadian co-production, but less so when considering the career of director Kim Chapiron. Last seen with his grisly 2006 horror Sheitan, Chapiron’s roots in the gruesome excess of the New French Extremity makes him a prime candidate to helm such distressing material, the graphic rape and violence of the original explicitly horrific in nature. Taming the indulgent weirdness of that earlier feature, Chapiron here finds an appropriate channel for his particular skills, the fearless immediacy of his handheld framing thrusting us into the heart of this story along with the three inmates whose indoctrination opens the film.

Respectively incarcerated for drug dealing, grand theft auto, and assault on an officer as the latest in a long line of offences, they are Davis, Angel, and Butch. Angel is of lesser concern to Chapiron as the film progresses; he focuses more on the experiences of Davis and Butch, their differing abilities to deal with their tough new circumstances showcasing the kind of undesirable outcomes such systems inevitably produce. Shane Kippel is entrancing as Davis, the boisterous braggart whose constant claims of sexual conquest underline the aggrandised masculinity of not just the juvenile detention system, but of young men at large. Adam Butcher, meanwhile, is quietly ferocious as the appropriately aggressive Butch, evidently intent on self-improvement but unable to restraint the fury within him.

Chapiron delivers a fine emulation of Clarke’s raw original. Its constant closeness, deviating mostly only in the details of the more iconic scenes, is a frustrating weakness, the older film seeming often a useful crutch Chapiron and his co-writer Jeremie Delon are all too quick to use.

dog4Together with the consistently engrossing work of his performers, many of whom are former juvenile inmates themselves, Chapiron delivers a fine emulation of Clarke’s raw original. Its constant closeness, deviating mostly only in the details of the more iconic scenes, is a frustrating weakness, the older film seeming often a useful crutch Chapiron and his co-writer Jeremie Delon are all too quick to use. Perhaps they’re wise to do so; Dog Pound’s one considerable difference from its source is the role it gives its correctional officers in the fate of its young protagonists, bestowing them a relative innocence compared to the earlier film that—while characterising them in greater detail—also leaves the movie curiously absent of any distinct social standpoint, acting instead as a sad rumination on the cyclical patterns of violence that define these youths’ lives.

Chapiron’s horror acumen, previously wasted in trifling exploitation, finds an appropriate avenue for expression here. Adopting the framework of a tough classic, it’s a considerable compliment to say he does it justice, yet Dog Pound never escapes its residence in the imposing shadow of Scum. The film’s greatest success, perhaps, is its function as a training ground of sorts for Chapiron; it acts as a stepping stone, allowing him to move beyond his earlier work and toward the realisation of the potential he evidently exudes. Both incarnations of this story—and indeed both directors—share key characteristics with their primary protagonists. Scum had all the accusatory ferocity of Winstone, all the aggression and all its direction, furiously targeted with fingers sharply pointed. Dog Pound, by contrast, has that same strange quality as Butcher, silently rocking with a determined intensity, filled with much the same emotion but not quite so sure as to how to direct it. At least, not yet.

[notification type=”star”]62/100 ~ OKAY. Adopting the framework of a tough classic, it’s a considerable compliment to say Chapiron does it justice, yet Dog Pound never escapes its residence in the imposing shadow of Scum.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.