Dog Pound, 2010.
Directed by Kim Chapiron.
Starring Adam Butcher, Shane Kippel, Mateo Morales, Slim Twig, Lawrence Bayne, Taylor Poulin, Dewshane Williams and Trent McMullen.
Three young offenders are sent to the Enola Vale Youth Correctional Center, which they soon discover to be a training ground for violence, aggression and bureaucratic incompetence.
French writer-director Kim Chapiron follows up his well received 2006 debut feature Sheitan with Dog Pound, a remake of Alan Clarke’s controversial British classic Scum (1979) that follows much the same storyline but shifts the action from a 1970s borstal to a contemporary U.S. setting. Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival back in April 2010 (with Chapiron receiving the Best New Narrative Filmmaker award for his efforts), Dog Pound received a limited theatrical run here in the UK and is now gearing up for a DVD release where it will hope to find itself a niche among the spate of recent prison movies such as Bronson (2008), Hunger (2008) and A Prophet (2009).
Set in a fictional Montana institution called Enola Vale, Dog Pound traces the fortunes of three new inmates – the rebellious and aggressive Butch (Adam Butcher), high-school drug dealer and ladies man Davis (Shane Kippel) and car-jacker Angel (Mateo Morales). Much like Scum’s borstal Enola Vale is a place of rigid discipline and institutionalised violence, with rehabilitation seemingly overlooked in favour of physical and psychological terror. Butch finds himself slipping into the role of protector to his new friends as the inmates are subjected to harsh treatment from the prison guards, along with the obligatory bullying courtesy of ‘top dog’ Banks (Taylor Poulin) and his cronies.
If Dog Pound’s narrative sounds a bit routine that’s because it is and its plot – or lack of – is really just an excuse to explore the harsh day-to-day reality and hopelessness of prison life. For those who’ve seen Scum things will seem fairly predictable, but if you aren’t familiar with the source material there are a few events that will shock en route to the film’s brutal finale. However, Chapiron takes a while to get things going and it isn’t until the start of the second act that we begin to get a sense of the characters as individuals rather than your regular prison stereotypes, which is where Dog Pound genuinely starts to come into its own.
What really helps the film to stand out is the stellar performances of its young and relatively unknown cast, the highlight being a fine turn from Adam Butcher who delivers a raw and intense performance as Butch, Dog Pound’s Carlin figure. You really get a sense of the anger and frustration bubbling away beneath the surface and if this performance is anything to go by Butcher will certainly be one to watch out for in the near future. The same too should be said for director Chapiron, especially considering this is just his second feature, and it will be interesting to see him take on more original material as his career progresses.
Being fortunate enough never to have spent time in an American youth detention facility (nor a British one, for that matter), I am probably not the most qualified person to vouch for Dog Pound’s authenticity, but Chapiron’s accomplished cinéma-vérité style – coupled with improvised performances from a cast that includes over a hundred real-life young offenders – provides the viewer with a gritty and intimate perspective of life on the inside. Overall Dog Pound is a decent effort, but in terms of juvenile prison flicks Scum is still the fackin’ daddy.
Dog Pound is released on DVD on January 3rd, 2011.
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