Film Reviews:

Dog Soldiers

(Neil Marshall, UK, 2002)

Review 1 / Review 2

Review 2

The werewolf film seems to have undergone one of its periodic resurrections in the past couple of years, with the likes of Ginger Snaps and, now, this British entry which pits a troop of squaddies against a pack of lycanthropes in the Scottish highlands. Or, at least, a convincing facsimile thereof - it was actually filmed in Luxembourg.

Dog SoldiersAfter getting the sharp end of the first encounter, the soldiers, led by Sean Pertwee - though he spends most of the movie holding his intestines in - hole up in a farmhouse, along with a conveniently-passing expository biologist, to which the werewolves lay siege. It's somewhere between Goldilocks and Night of the Living Dead, with a host of nods to almost every genre entry of the past 20 years, even Star Trek and its "Kobayashi Maru scenario".

Fortunately, it doesn't rely on these pop-culture riffs, having plenty of energy on its own, as our heroes deal with dwindling ammunition and a seemingly invincible enemy, not to mention the Special Ops guy in their midst who may not be all he seems. It's nice to see a film almost totally reliant on genuine physical effects rather than CGI, and while the werewolves may not be the most convincing creations you'll have seen, the pace with which they whiz past covers their flaws nicely.

McKidd is the most well-rounded character, but the rest of his colleagues all have their amusing quirks, such as the guy who is more concerned with the England-Germany footie match that they're missing. The squaddies 'colourful' language almost acquires a lyrical quality, and one even feels a certain sympathy for the werewolves, whose territory has been invaded, albeit unwittingly. There isn't much in the way of thought being provoked here, but neither are there any pretensions - it's a straightforward, popcorn-munching horror flick that delivers a well-handled and thoroughly entertaining mix of blood and humour. 7/10

Jim McLennan

Review 1

Dog SoldiersBritish squaddies battle a colony of werewolves in the Scottish Highlands - how's that for a tempting offer? This low-budget British horror flick not only manages to breathe fresh life into the hackneyed werewolf movie genre, but does it with such a kick-arse attitude that it's hard for anyone with a passing interest in the genre not to be completely won over by this brave, contemporary twist on my favourite horror movie genre. A bunch of British soldiers is dropped by helicopter into a remote part of the Scottish Highlands as part of a weekend training exercise. It isn't long before they stumble across the remains of a covert special forces operation - the only survivor of which is the commander - who ripped apart at the seams - rants about the group being attacked by some incredible force. A group of beasts that can still be heard roaming the dense woodland.

For once, you can believe the movie poster hype. The excited adjectives that accompanied this film's UK release poster are amply fulfilled in the film itself that rattles along at a cracking pace and never whimps out on the action. The approach is peppered with spot-on humour throughout and inevitably tempts comparisons with An American Werewolf In London. But they're comparisons that Dog Soldiers stands up to remarkably well. The possible gung-ho overkill is kept under control, as the emphasis in the script is on character development rather than a one sentence plot upon which several set pieces are artlessly crafted. Even so, there are some superb set pieces culminating in our heroes defending a remote farmhouse surrounded by huge, "upright" werewolves, whose intelligence matches their brute strength.

Dog SoldiersThe special effects, considering the modest budget, are extremely good. Only once or twice do they falter. But the filmmakers know their limitations, mocking their own work with a terrifically funny visual pun involving a werewolf's paw coming through the front door (to say any more will spoil the impact of what follows). The dialogue's throwaway witticisms are not only decidedly British but darkly spot on too. They are never annoying or intrusive and the script has many memorable, quotable lines. Even though the tone varies, the humour is used largely to diffuse the otherwise intense atmosphere and never really threatens to undermine the central horror theme. The werewolves are similar in style to those seen in The Howling and are largely achieved through large, full-body prosthetics and animatronics. The results have far more impact that the CGI counterparts that have peppered other lycanthrope movies of late like An American Werewolf in Paris or Brotherhood of The Wolf.

Thankfully there's no scrimping on the gore either. Entrails seem to be spilling at regular intervals and there are some moments of graphic detail that (thanks to the astute direction) are as funny as they are gruesome (very Evil Dead in this respect - where you laugh at the excess of it all). The direction by former editor Neil Marshall is tight, dramatic and well-suited to the script. Let's hope he has a taste for one of our favourite genres and that he gets more chances to impress. Dog Soldiers is rollicking good fun. Terrifying one moment and hilarious the next. The mood, established by some great photography from the outset, never falters and the tone is distinctly British throughout. The results are great and any horror fan should see this film. It makes me proud to be British and salvages the credibility of a UK film industry in danger of collapsing under the weight of too many worthy urban and period dramas. 7/10

Rob Dyer

See also:

An American Werewolf in London
The Evil Dead
The Howling

A-Z of Film Reviews