Kim Chapiron’s Dog Pound, despite following a rigidly established prison drama setup, is still more than worthy of your time. Hard-hitting, brutal and filled with electrifying performances, it still has the power to surprise.
After a short but highly efficient introduction to our three protagonists, (Davis, a sixteen year old drug dealer; Angel, a fifteen year old car thief and Butch, a seventeen year old arrested for assault on a probation officer) the film transports them, and us, to the Enola Vale juvenile offenders institute, a place where kids are left to fend for themselves in an atmosphere of high tension and grim reality.
In some ways, Dog Pound is everything you’ve seen before in prison movies (except with kids), but the film comes across more as a genuine homage than as something distractingly derivative. All the clichés are there – though that isn’t to say the film doesn’t bring its own ideas to the fold – but they are handled in such a characteristically authentic, stripped down manner that the film can get away with it.
Chapiron (Sheitan) does extremely well in capturing that familiar sense of looming dread so common in this type of confined, macho environment, and sensibly decides to offset the largely youthful cast (some of whom are genuine ex-offenders and many of whom are not professional actors) against a good performance by Lawrence Bayne, playing chief security officer Goodyear. His, and our, sense of control (and the ever-increasing lack of it) plays well in context of the film, and there is an underlying sense that the line between controlled chaos and outright mania is a thin one at best.
If the film suffers slightly from a case of unoriginality, the same cannot be said for the cast who, professional or otherwise, take to their roles with vigour and believability. Although Angel (Mateo Morales) is a little sidelined at times, the three central characters are portrayed well, with Shane Kippel’s David hovering tensely between charming inmate and abused newbie. The standout performance here, though, is Adam Butcher, whose character Butch, we are warned very early on, does not like to be taunted, and has a frankly terrifying anger problem. His performance is one of bubbling tension; his features visibly swelling with a raw anger that we genuinely believe could be unleashed at any moment.
Building to a bravado climax that suddenly becomes almost apocalyptic in its aesthetic, the film succeeds wholeheartedly in breaking through its inspirations to stand on its own as a great prison movie. Not afraid to pull punches (or throw in a couple of lighter moments), stark in its realism and breathlessly exciting at times, Dog Pound is a striking, provocative film that will stick in your mind long after the credits roll.