Since hearing about it earlier this year I have had high hopes for DOG SOLDIERS. Would it bring some bite back to the recently toothless werewolf movie? Could it spark a revieval in long traditional, now dead, British Horror? DOG SOLDIERS is so obviously British, in so many ways. It looks more like British TV than Hollywood blockbuster. So be warned, if Hollywood polish is your thing, DOG SOLDIERS probably isn't.
Directed and written by Neil Marshall, it upon analysis seems less an original creation and more a mix of various other well known films. For concept, take the "Werewolves alive in north Britain" angle (American Werewolf in London). For plot, start with a group of soldiers being hunted in the woods (Predator) and finish off with them barricading themselves up in a house, fighting to survive till dawn Night of the Living Dead. So, okaaay, it might not beat you over the head with originality but the idea of stranding half a dozen soldiers in a forest full of werewolves is just so, well, cooooool...
After a quick off-screen introduction to the werewolf we are then introduced to the cast. A motley crew of British soldiers on an exercise in the middle of the Scottish Highlands. From the get-go the dialogue is colourful, and British. No Dick Van Dyke accents or lines here, the language is authentic in a way only a Brit can truly appreciate.
The cast is also (thank god!) all British, and led by a gruff Scot (McKidd) and a couple of foulmouthed, wisecracking Geordies. So no stereotypes there then! A couple of things are immediately apparent though. One, the cast is made up of unknowns, the exception being Sean Pertwee (son of DOCTOR WHO's John). Two, that some of the young actors practically scream "How do I do this acting, then?" at times. They are *that* raw. The actors though are at their best when the dialogue is at its funniest, when the soldiers are wisecracking amongst themselves. Darren Morfitt (the raw Geordie) particularly excels as the often funny Spoon. This guys comic delivery is excellent.
At the half hour mark, the werewolf makes its first appearance. At first it is merely glimpsed in flashes, as, in silhouette, it chases the soldiers through the twilit woods. It makes for a perfect introduction to the lycanthropes. Seconds later, when the Soldiers decide to play patty-cake with the werewolves arm through the roof of a landrover, I was just dying to shout "For fucks sake! Just get your gun out and blow it's fucking head off!". After escaping the clutches of the Werewolf Act 2 sees the soldiers holed up in an empty house holding the furry bastards at bay.
Going into the film one of my fears was "Would the werewolves be realistic enough to allow DOG SOLDIERS to be a 'serious' horror film?"
That fear is answered as soon as you get the first real look at them and I have to say (for a non Hollywood blockbuster) they look DAMN good. No CGI shit here, just big men in big furry suits, but the wolves have a real indefinable quality about them. They (mostly) don't look (or feel) like men in suits. O.K. they sometimes look like they are acting their movements but only in the extended shots.
They are wolves in the shape of men, more like The Howling than American Werewolf. Hell they even sound good, particularly the yelps of pain as they are riddled with bullets. This is also the point you realise the real direction of the film. What I expected, or maybe hoped, was that Dog Soldiers would be a 'real' horror movie. None of this self deprecating Scream shit. Not even an Evil Dead comedy. I wanted Dog' to be a movie about soldiers experiencing the mind numbing terror of facing real killing machines. The trauma of Private Ryan, only facing an enemy that you CANNOT kill...
The further through the film goes though the less serious the situation and it's antagonists are treated. The soldiers aren't shitting themselves shouting "What the fuck are these things?!". They take it in stride, guns at the ready, chewing gum and making fun of the enemy. British badasses (Hell they are Northern!) that make John Wayne look like Shirley Temple. Send these guys to Iraq and Saddam is toast.
For some unexplicable reason Pertwee, the best actor among them, is barely featured in the middle half of the film. I guess though being that the film isn't overly serious that 'real acting' isn't needed. Still a waste of talent though.
Unfortunately, at least for me, when Dog Soldiers needed to go for the jugular we get 'quipping in the face of death' of legendary proportions. This isn't Evil Dead comedy, but some of the parting lines delivered late in the film have to be heard to be believed. Arnie eat your heart out.
Dog Soldiers is without doubt a good film. Hell it's *definitely* a fun film. It has many things going for it that make it a recommendation. It just unfortunately isn't the film *I* was hoping for. I have a feeling though that despite all that, Dog Soldiers, like fur, will grow on me...