TRIBECA 2010: DOG POUND Review

[ Once again, props go to Joshua Chaplinksy for this review ]

Four Years ago, a bizarre little film called Sheitan made me a fan of director Kim Chapiron for life. It starred Vincent Cassel as a demented hillbilly who makes a Faustian deal with the devil in what I consider to be one of the best horror films of the aughts. I missed its premiere at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, but was lucky enough to discover it on DVD. This year, Chapiron returns to the fest with his highly anticipated (by me) followup, the hardcore juvie prison drama, Dog Pound.

Based on the 1979 Alan Clarke film, Scum, Dog Pound jacks its inspiration like a fresh pair of kicks and will fuck you up if you snitch. Updating the action to present day middle-America, the loose narrative follows three inmates in a juvenile detention center as they attempt to keep their heads down and their noses clean.

Easier said than done.


There has been no shortage of quality prison dramas as of late, what with Hunger, A Prophet, and even Bronson, so I wasn't exactly clamoring for another. But based on what he did with Sheitan, I was confident Chapiron would give Dog Pound a similar unique spin.

Unfortunately, Dog Pound isn't the reinvention of the genre I was hoping for. But what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in authenticity. Chapiron casts the film with actual inmates, many who are fresh out of jail, many who are already back in. These non-actors bring a realism to the film that borders on documentary. When lines are crossed and shit goes down, it is a barely controlled chaos.

Everything else about the film, from the camera work to the set design, is top notch. Brutal flashes of violence punctuate the thick layer of tension blanketing the film. It is also quite funny. One scene in particular, where a young inmate regales his bunk mates with stories of a May/December sexual encounter, provides a welcomed respite from the doom and gloom. It is not as funny as the notorious "cold-cut platter" sequence in Sheitan, but it comes close.

What keeps this film from being truly great, however, is the script. It is not until almost thirty minutes into the film that the three leads emerge as real characters, and even then, they are not developed equally. The story meanders here and there, functioning more as a slice of life than a straightforward narrative. It might be a realistic portrayal of prison life, but does not make for the most satisfying of storytelling.

But that's not to say Dog Pound should be viewed as a write off. Chapiron finishes strong, with a prison riot so audacious, it took three days to film. If it feels real, it's because it is. It's all there up on the screen.

Dog Pound has it's flaws, but it's gonna take a lot more than one weak story to lessen my opinion of Chapiron. He is a talented director, even when working with lesser material. Get this guy a great script, and we could very well have a masterpiece on our hands.

JOSHUA CHAPLINSKY
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