French director Kim Chapiron’s second feature takes him to Canada for a remake of Scum, the famed 1970’s gritty BBC film about life in a borstal, now entitled Dog Pound.

Four law-breaking teenagers (who we are introduced to via a nifty pre-credits sequence) find themselves incarcerated in a detention centre where revenge and retribution are a daily occurrence where the guards offer little in the way of sympathy or empathy. One of the youngsters, 17 year-old Butch (Adam Butcher), remanded for a violent attack on an officer at his previous institute, struggles to curb his aggression towards the authorities and some of his fellow intimidating inmates.

A film like this really lives or dies on the believability of the cast and Chapiron has assembled an authentic-looking bunch of young actors. They all acquit themselves extremely well and the lead Butcher (in the Ray Winstone role from the original) is particularly impressive, managing to convey a stoic sensitivity underneath his intense exterior, which is all suppressed in anger and rage. Special mention must go out to Taylor Poulin too, who plays the chubby and bullying sociopath Banks. He’s a thoroughly nasty piece of work and Poulin (who was actually released from a juvenile detention centre days before shooting commenced) does a great job of portraying this extremely unlikeable character, who manages to make your skin crawl and helps generate an acute feeling of unease every time he enters the frame – making his inevitable comeuppance perhaps more satisfying than intended.

The young Parisian filmmaker also resists the urge to crank up it up with the same visual flair he imbued with his feature length debut, Sheitan. While that film had a number of self-conscious horror flourishes and an OTT Vincent Cassel performance, the rawness and lack of style here works perfectly in capturing the thoroughly unglamorous surroundings. Colours are muted, and there’s a predominant green and blue pastel-y hue to the corridors, holding cells and sleeping areas.

To give it any kind of stylised edge and instil it with heightened sense of reality would have been a complete contrast to the subject matter, which it’s to the maker’s credit that they adhere surprisingly closely to the BBC version. Some of the insights into prison life may feel a little clichéd given the amount of similarly-themed films we’ve been privy to during the last thirty years or so, but in defence of this, the behaviour and actions of the characters are presumably still very much prevalent in a real-life youth prison environment, where a survival of the fittest mentality is a indisputable requirement.

Dog Pound is not without its flaws and some of these are partly due to the fact that it’s difficult to evade inevitable comparisons with the original source material. The fate and demise of one character doesn’t come anywhere close to having the same impact as the previous version, and there are a couple of incidents in which the outcome is rather predictable. For the most part however, this is an impressively directed and well-acted piece which manages to sneak the odd piece of social commentary in there (the anger management scene has a bitter irony about it) without it ever feeling forced.

The film’s ending takes a slight departure from the original’s, but in many ways, it’s just as powerful, and Chapiron’s insightful and grounded approach to the subject matter (which could have easily spiralled into sensationalism in lesser hands), definitely marks him as a talent to watch out for.


Dog Pound is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray through Optimum Releasing or availble to rent here.