Dog Pound follows the story of three unrelated juvenile delinquents that all enter the Enola Vale Youth Correctional Center at the same time. Angel (Mateo Morales) is a particularly young looking boy who gave armed assault and grand theft auto a try. Davis (Shane “Spinner” Kippel of Degrassi: The Next Generation) thought possession with intent to sell might be fun. Butch (Adam Butcher) is already in a correctional facility when we meet him. Obviously, he longs for more discipline… and earns a trip to Enola Vale by pushing his thumbs into a CO’s eyes, 28 Days Later style. These three new fish attempt to make the best of their new surroundings, and might even have a chance, if they can stay on their CO’s good side, while simultaneously avoiding the attention of Enola Vale’s resident King-Shit, Banks (Taylor Poulin).
Director Kim Chapiron makes his English language debut with an enjoyable, yet uncomfortable, prison movie. Dog Pound is hard to watch at times. Not because it’s poorly made, but just the opposite. This is a prison movie, with kids. All the tropes of the genre make an appearance, again, with kids. It’s not the feel good movie of the summer. It is, however, very powerful. I thought the acting was excellent all around, particularly since this was some of the cast’s first (and only) work. Butcher and Kippel stand out, giving strong, convincing and relatable performances. Lawrence Bayne (a relatively prominent voice actor and announcer here in Canada, notable cross-border for appearing as several voices, including Cable, on the 90s X-men cartoon) delivers a notable performance as Goodyear, a supervising CO.
While Chapiron gets some fantastic performances from his cast, and creates a suitably claustrophobic environment, the film is far from flawless. The the story stretches its believability at times. It might not ever come across as something that hasn’t or couldn’t ever happen, but there are several moments where “Come on, now” floated through my head. Another problem with the script is that these unrealistic moments happen as a way to drive us from one classic prison cliché to another, until finally we’ve finally set the stage for an explosive riot. (I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by telling you that the prison movie that features a prison whose name is a not-so-subtle nod to the Enola Gay climaxes with an explosive riot.) I found it relatively easy to forgive these sins, though, because Chapiron and his cast were still able to get me to connect with the characters despite the obvious nature of the trials they were going to end up facing.
Another strength for the movie for me, was a personal local connection. The reason the film was on my radar at all is because it was filmed on location in my hometown of Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. Each of the locations were within 10km of the home I grew up in. One of the outdoor scenes was filmed at the CN Hump Yard, a railroad shop that my father worked at almost 25 years ago, and just up the road from the repair shop we run now.
All of the interior scenes were filmed in old buildings with religious ties. One was a run-down church that was demolished this year, the other was the original site of a local Baptist college. I had no idea at the time of filming what the movie was about, and I’d wager that not too many other area residents did either. I’m pretty sure the idea of using a church to film kids kicking the shit out of one another would’ve kicked up more of a fuss had someone decided to take the story and run with it.
Anyway, this local connection piqued my interest, but it also lowered my expectations. I honestly assumed that anything that was low budget enough to be filmed in Moncton was destined to be mind-numbingly shitty. It’s low budget, and feels low budget, but I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy it anyway.
Without the local ties, I’d probably rate it a 3/5, teetering on the edge of something higher because I really did enjoy Butcher, Kippel and Poulin’s characters, and Lawrence Bayne does a great job handling a role that, in the end, isn’t written very well. But with the local connection, it’s easily a personal 4/5.