Dog Soldiers, 2002.
Directed by Neil Marshall.
Starring Kevin McKidd, Sean Pertwee, Emma Cleasby, Darren Morfitt, Chris Robson, Leslie Simpson, Thomas Lockyer and Liam Cunningham.
A group of British soldiers on a training mission in the Scottish Highlands find themselves battling for survival against a pack of vicious werewolves.
In all honesty, dear readers, I couldn’t think of a clever introduction for today’s review. But, I think it’s fair to say, with today’s film, you don’t need to use your brain too much. So let’s stop wasting our time, barricade the windows and hunker down for a look at Neil Marshall’s massively fun, funny and gruesome werewolf vs squaddie action/horror Dog Soldiers.
The set-up to Dog Soldiers is so simple it could be written on a napkin with space left over for sequels. We have a squad of soldiers on a training mission, werewolves attack, and a battle to bloody death erupts. FIN. While simple, writer/director Neil Marshall uses the thin premise to create colourful, likeable characters, allowing us to get to know them, root for them and ultimately fear for their lives when the werewolves begin their assault.
A great character-building moment comes early on in a camping scene in which the men share their greatest fears, ranging from spiders, women and, for an Englishman, the scariest thing of all, penalty shoot-outs. This wonderful bonding moment culminates in the world-weary Sgt Wells (the always reliable Sean Pertwee) telling the colourful and darkly comic tale of former comrade Eddie Oswald and his, shall we say, strategically located Devil tattoo. The characters might not be the most richly developed or complex, but it’s these small, funny moments that make you want to see them all make it to the end alive.
Of course, my favourite character is a fellow Scotsman, the honourable Cooper, expertly played by the wonderful Kevin McKidd (perhaps best known nowadays for his role on Grey’s Anatomy. Now that’s scary). A brave and loyal soldier with an unbreakable code of ethics, Cooper is arguably the only fully-rounded character in the film. Quickly emerging as its de-facto hero as he is forced to take charge of the battle against seemingly unstoppable monsters.
The supporting cast is solid throughout, the actors making the most of their somewhat thinly written characters and playing them with an often cheeky charm that makes them quickly endearing. Liam Cunningham particularly stands out as Captain Ryan, a secretive Special Ops officer and the film’s true villain. Adopting a clipped upper-class English accent, Cunningham plays a devious and cold bastard to perfection, always talking down to the other characters and often hiding his true intentions, making for a delightfully loathsome character who you long to see meet a grisly end.
Dog Soldiers can best be described as a delicious stew of many different cinematic ingredients borrowed from other films. We have parts of military-heavy action horror of Predator and Aliens, combined with elements from siege films like Night of the Living Dead, Assault on Precinct 13 and Straw Dogs as our heroes hunker down and attempt to survive the night. The script is also peppered with fun little nods and lines lifted from the likes of Zulu, The Matrix and even, in possibly a first for a horror film, the 1966 World Cup final. Dog Soldiers doesn’t so much as wear its influences on its sleeves but proudly cakes itself in them.
The action set pieces that litter the film are fast, ferocious and oodles (that’s a new one for me) of fun. The rapid editing can be a tad disorienting at times and often make certain parts of the sequences difficult to see, but they work well to project the intensity of the barrage of bullets and claws slashing across the screen. The rapid editing and often shaky camera style also work to make the film appear larger in scale than its low budget would allow, with Marshall and his crew deserving credit for managing to create a variety of fun, intense action scenes despite their limited resources and locations. I love the small moments of ludicrous heroism that some of the characters are given, such as the stupidly brave “Spoony” fighting a werewolf with the entire contents of a kitchen and then his bare hands.
Dog Soldiers is among the least scary films I’ve watched this month, but it makes up for its lack of scares with its devious sense of gallows humour and more than a few hilarious and often crude one-liners. I don’t know many films that have the line; “….if Little Red Riding Hood should show up with a bazooka and a bad attitude, I expect you to chin the bitch”. While not every line is a work genius, and there are more than a few silly exchanges have you groaning, they are delivered with such conviction by the cast that you can’t help but crack a smirk. Then there are the recurring references to a football match between England and Germany. A matter of life and death if you’re English (and, if the Germans win, a source of joy if you’re Scottish), with this running joke leading to a punchline in the end credits that, after everything our heroes have endured, feels like a final cruel, yet ironic, insult.
It might be rough around the edges, but Neil Marshall’s creative direction that makes the most of his limited resources, a likeable cast, homage-heavy script and a dark sense of humour ensure that, despite its few flaws, Dog Soldiers is a perfect fun ride to start off or close your Halloween viewing party.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★