Young French writer-director Kim Chapiron, who made the hillbilly horror Sheitan, heads to the American Midwest for his English-language debut feature. Based on Alan Clarke’s seminal borstal drama Scum, Dog Pound is set in a Montana facility for juvenile offenders. Three new teenage prisoners arrive through its gates: Butch (Adam Butcher) has assaulted a correctional officer; Davis (Shane Kippel) has been caught dealing drugs, while Angel (Mateo Morales) was arrested stealing a car. A warden explains to them that if they play by the rules, they will be treated fairly. The newcomers quickly discover, however, that in this dog-eat-dog world, it is thuggish bullies like their fellow in-mate Banks (Taylor Poulin), who have to be confronted.
A visceral authenticity is this claustrophobic film’s main asset, which is partly achieved by the convincing lead performances and the casting of gang-members and ex-prisoners in supporting roles, who all look and seem right for this environment (Poplin, for example, has real-life convictions for violence). Credit too to Chapiron and his cinematographer Andre Chemetoff for the way they capture the climactic riot scene in the cafeteria with a dramatic you-are-there immediacy. There’s no question that the filmmaker is effective at portraying the brutality and intimidation that define this detention system and, fittingly, even the anger-management class flares up into a violent confrontation. What’s less clear though, is what the film actually adds to Clarke’s original vision.