The director of the superb French horror Sheitan returns with what seems very much like a remake of the British classic Scum. Here Kim Chapiron has created a prison movie which deserves its place alongside classics like Scum and McVicar, and also the recent, phenomenal A Prophet. We also have a star in the making, Ray Winstone eat your heart out as Adam Butcher comes on the scene with a blistering, , powerful and frightening performance to easily match Winsotne’s Carling. Butcher plays new convict Butch, and he, Davis (Shane Kippel) and Angel (Mateo Morales) have just started their sentences at a young offender’s prison. A brief introduction shows Davis to be a drug dealer, Angel a violent thief and Butch to have a bit of a temper and has been pushed too far by an officer, who he then blinds in one eye. So, a nice group then. However, it’s refreshing to have real bad people here and not some innocent guy convicted of a crime he did not commit.
The first day in prison they meet the guards and they meet some unwelcoming characters. The guards seem tough, but in a strange way, fair. The head of the prison clearly states “Whatever you did and whoever you were on the outside means nothing to me. I’m here to make sure you serve your time”. The guards are clear they will stand no nonsense and at times can be strict where they need to be. Officer Goodyear is our main link and he does seem to care for these lads and is quick to respond to problems. He comes across as a good guy, listening to the convicts, and saddened by the law of silence when things go wrong and people get hurt. Under pressure from his job and his home life, it’s worrying that things are starting to get too much for him. However, it’s nice to meet a group of guards who aren’t violence happy and don’t jump in on their prisoners batons blazing. The guards don’t attempt to befriend the convicts, just house and look after them. In one scene, Davis is given a nasty drug by Banks, the man who runs things, and freaks out after Banks and his crew whisper things about his Mother. Officer Goodyear finds Davis covered in ink marks and crawling on the floor screaming for help. Goodyear simply stands him in the shower, shoves his fingers down his throat and then put him in solitary confinement to get his head straight.
So, we have learnt that Davis is the first to be bullied by Banks and his crew of bullies who run the ward and sell the drugs. Banks is a monster of a man, a real brute thug played superbly by Taylor Poulin. He works closely with a massive black guy called Shadow, and the book delivery geek is the guy who brings in the drugs. Thankfully Angel seems to avoid Banks and his bullying, but Butch fast becomes the target. We learn at the beginning that Butch can hold his temper, but only to a point. Once he snaps, you better be somewhere else. His character grows into a real vicious bastard as the films goes on, and Adam Butcher is electrifying, controlling the screen and giving a menacing glare at all who look at him. To enjoy watching someone relish being so bad is just brilliant. Banks pushed him to the limit, and in a vicious scene reminiscent of Scum’s “who’s the Daddy now!!” scene, Butch takes control of the ward. We don’t see Banks for some time after this…
Butch simply loves his new role but treats his friends well. The three who came to prison together, stick together. Butch soon starts to control the drugs and the intensity between him and Shadow starts to grow. Tensions are also running high as we have an extremely sexually frustrated guy who fancies his teacher, we have race issues, and in a superb scene at an anger management class, it’s clear that certain individuals just aren’t happy. Everything is threatening to boil over into extreme violence and all it would take is a small spark to set it off. The relentless pace of the film means that this spark could simply be anywhere. Nothing in the film is wasted and everything is there for a reason. There are beatings, verbal threats, deals and a vicious face cutting scene all building to a climax which doesn’t disappoint. However, there are still some issues to be addressed by the guards and the teachers.
One of those issues is race, and a game of Dodgeball to cure everyone’s frustrations and anger provide an interesting, powerful high point to the film as the convicts split into two teams, coloured and white. The black teacher taking the class is absolutely furious and mixes the teams up. The game itself is a joy to watch as these tough guys take their anger out on one another by violently throwing a ball in the hope of hitting someone on the other team. It delivers much of the poor amount of comical moments and allows a bit of escape from the tense atmosphere. It would seem, for a brief moments, enemies can become friends and unlikely heroes are made. The teacher himself is having a ball as he screams at them “Let out that anger!!!. If only things were really that simple, and sadly it will take more than a game of dodgeball to cure the hate that is growing in this lot.
The film cleverly asks the questions, just what is the best form of therapy for young offenders. Be strict or try to make them see sense, understand them or distance yourself from them. Sadly, none of these questions are fully answered, but the ideas of trying tem out are there. The film is not as deep as all that, and is essentially a study on how a group of thugs can so easily be pushed to their limits and how all it takes is for one guy to make the first move and the rest will follow. You can probably guess how it finishes so I won’t go into details, but there is one final scene that in a way I did see coming, but never expected it to be quite as vicious as it is. Butch, believe it or not, is a character you will actually warm to, so strong is Butcher’s performance. All he wants to do is simply stand up for himself and not be pushed around. He protects his mates and won’t allow anyone to walk over him, and seriously, there’s nothing really wrong in that?
Dog Pound is an exceptional film filled with real characters in real situations. It’s filled with standout and believable performances by a cast of unknowns, many of whom are ex-convicts themselves, with much of the dialogue improvised. It has violence and emotions, it poses questions but doesn’t really force any answers on you. It’s directed with passion and conviction, it’s pacing is spot on and its climax extremely satisfying. It’s fair to say Dog Pound is a bit of a gem really, a really really great prison film that is gonna take some beating. If this is your sort of thing, you cannot go wrong with watching this minor masterpiece.