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Typically, walking out of a movie angry isn’t a good sign. Whereas most films that leave a moviegoer livid are just plain old bad films, the rage Dog Pound leaves you with stems from the profound nature of the material and its powerful presentation. Don’t want your kid to end up in juvie? Take them to see Dog Pound.
The film opens by introducing us to the main players. There’s Davis (Shane Kippel), a 16-year-old nabbed for drug possession, Angel (Mateo Morales), a 15-year-old convicted of assault and auto theft and Butch (Adam Butcher), a 17-year-old on lockdown for assaulting a correctional officer. Upon handing over their personal items in exchange for their prison garb, the boys are rough and tough, seemingly unconcerned with their current situation. However, it doesn’t take long until they feel the pressure of their keeper, Officer Goodyear (Lawrence Bayne), and the wrath of the resident bully, Banks.
Save for a glimpse of the attack that landed Butch in Enola Vale Youth Correctional Center, the first half of the film is relatively tame. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a film about a group of boys in this type of facility: smug looks, bad attitudes and, of course, the tendency to pick on the news guys. Angel manages to elude Banks’ clutches, but both Davis and Butch suffer some serious beat downs. The sound effects pack such a serious punch, it’s impossible not to cringe as Banks lands his blows.
But the brutality of the circumstances isn’t the only element feeding that reaction; you genuinely care about Butch, Davis and Angel. They’re in Enola Vale for having committed heartless crimes, particularly Butch, yet writer/director Kim Chapiron hints at just enough of their vulnerable sides to evoke some sympathy, again, particularly with Butch. It’d be impossible to get any enjoyment out of Dog Pound had the character not been made somewhat likable. Davis and Angel make the transition from child delinquent to endearing character rather easily. Butch, on the other hand, isn’t just a simple case of youth gone awry; he has a genuine evil side. You’re terrified of him, yet desperately want him to be okay.
After a somewhat docile first half, Dog Pound gets violent, and I mean seriously brutal. A number of fight scenes push the blood flow so close to the brink, they run the risk of being so disconcerting that the moment loses its meaning. Those with a high tolerance for aggressiveness will hang on just fine, but for the rest, parts can be too upsetting, ruining the experience entirely. If you can’t make it through the beatings, the ending will certainly seal the deal and leave you in complete disgust. But as much as it pains me to say it, having Dog Pound end any other way would totally invalidate the entire piece.
Besides the violence, the most shocking aspect of the film is how it isn’t tending towards a definite end. You’re never promised an ultimate goal. It’s almost like a diary; you’re just joining these boys on a day-to-day basis with no knowledge of what’s coming next. The key to making this formula work is the intense connection with the main characters, but it’s also largely due to proper editing and an appropriate music selection. There are a number of rigid cuts that can be a bit distracting, particularly from loud cafeteria scenes to more intimate moments, but quick cuts generally keep Dog Pound moving at a sensible pace. The simple soundtrack, primarily featuring a sole guitar, enhances the aura of the environment allowing the viewer to feel as though they’re in Enola Vale.
Dog Pound is certainly not a movie for everyone, but for those willing to accept the story for what it is, the payoff is enormous. It’s intense in every sense of the word and will leave you with an excruciating knot in your stomach. But Chapiron achieves exactly what he sets out to do, provide the audience with a glimpse of the forces that turns a bad seed into a long-term delinquent. It’s painful, beautiful, heart wrenching and endearing and will leave you completely overtaken by the events you just witnessed.
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