DOG SOLDIERS (2002)
I am a big fan of writer/director Neil Marshall and while it is his The Descent which really sold me on him as a filmmaker, it was his freshman film Dog Soldiers which first got my attention. The film is a simple yet very effective and intense story of a group of British grunts on training maneuvers in the Scottish Highlands, who not only find their SAS opponents dead, but by the claws of what appear to be a pack of werewolves straight out of legend. With their Sergeant (Sean Pertwee) injured, stoic Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd) takes control of the panicked group and attempts to get them to safety. They soon find themselves in the company of pretty Zoologist Megan (Emma Cleasby) who leads them to a small cottage where they decide to make a stand and fight against their lycanthropic pursuers. Thus begins a terrifying siege through the night as unbeknownst to our group of beleaguered soldiers, that when the moon is not full, the cottage is where these werewolves call home.
Sure Marshall’s werewolf flick does evoke Aliens with it’s soldiers v.s. monsters story, which even includes a bit of military conspiracy concerning the SAS unit’s true mission, but we let him slide because, he does it so damn well. Dog Soldiers is a very intense and sometimes very gruesome horror flick with a group of tough and likable grunts in the fight for their lives against supernatural creatures in the middle of nowhere and with no one coming to their aid. Unlike James Cameron’s classic, these guys also have to deal with their own who get bitten, as we all know what happens when the moon is full to those who get bit. There are moments of quiet to let the audience catch their breath, but Marshall then gives us sudden explosions of intense action and sometimes in some very tight places within the small cottage. Bullets and blood fly regularly, but it’s all the more effective because Marshall has given us enough time to get to know and like his besieged soldiers and he gives their canine opponents a real sense of menace…and an intelligent menace at that. These are cunning, vicious and powerful creatures and as the myths are true, the soldiers weapons are only a temporary inconvenience. This sets up a sense of not only dread but, of a growing hopelessness as our protagonists are running out of time, options and numbers in which to save themselves.
Marshall gets very good work from his cast, especially McKidd who is a strong and heroic lead. Cooper is a simple but smart and tenacious man who is not going to give up even when faced with opponents from out of a horror movie. We get a cute but very smart and spunky heroine from Cleasby as Megan and a tough but lovable sergeant from Pertwee. The rest all give their characters a personality and life beyond the printed script and the performers under the latex and fur give our lycanthropes some real threat. As for our wolves, the costumes are effective animatronics and prosthetics and since they are created on a low budget, Marshall keeps them effective by shooting them in quick shots and keeping them in shadow giving them an air of mystery, as well as, hiding any possible flaws from budgetary restraints. The rest of the gore and bloodshed is also quite well orchestrated and there is plenty of it!
While not perfect…there are a few plot holes, but most flaws come from a limited budget…Dog Soldiers is an atmospheric and action-packed tale of hard and tough men up against something even their steel nerves and military skills can’t handle. It’s witty and fast paced and takes a time honored siege story and really makes it work. A solid and scary horror/action flick that also has a bit of a sly sense of humor and is not without a few surprises too. Highly recommended! Also stars Liam Cunningham as sole surviving SAS Captain Ryan, a man with quite a few secrets of his own.
There has been continual talk for years about a sequel. but so far, nothing has yet to happen…and maybe that’s a good thing as we all know how the sequel to Marshall’s The Decent…which he didn’t write or direct…turned out.
3 and 1/2 bullets…which only annoy a werewolf since they are not silver!