Friday, September 17, 2010

Movie Review: Dog Soldiers

In my triumverate of horror film monsters - vampires, werewolves, and zombies - probably the one with the least room for growth, I thought, was werewolves. It's utterly simple lore - men (or women) turn into wolves at the full moon each month and if you get bit you turn into one yourself. How to kill them and/or reverse the effects of being bitten can change with each movie, but it's basically a scenario of fighting off huge wolves that rip you to shredded paper.

Bad dog.
Why not add some trained soldiers to square off with the werewolves in an isolated farmhouse? It certainly worked in Dog Soldiers. I like werewolf movies and I like war movies, with the camaraderie and loyalty among soldiers. And I got the feeling half-way through watching Dog Soldiers that this movie (as one of the actors also said) is not a werewolf movie with soldiers, but rather a soldier movie with werewolves.

The Big Fat Plot Paragraph: A squad of six British soldiers are dropped into the Scottish Highlands on a training mission. They soon find the remains of a Special Ops camp that had been killed and destroyed, but there is one survivor. Not knowing it at the time, werewolves begin hunting the soldiers, who are picked up by a woman (a zoologist) and taken to an old farmhouse where they hole up to fight off the savage enemies.

As a British film, I don't know much about the actors but they all seemed very talented and took their roles and this movie seriously. You care about these guys; they're nice and they're loyal and you really don't want to see them torn in half or turn into werewolves themselves. Sean Pertwee is actually the only one I recognized - he was in the awesome Event Horizon - and I loved his role as the Sarge who was fiercely protective of his men, even if some of them aren't too serious or are kind of wimpy.

Oh, it's beautiful.
As an enhancement to the men's relationship with each other, the dialogue is very good throughout. There's your standard dirty-mouthed soldier talk and a lot of British slang that I honestly didn't understand some of, but more importantly, the dialogue feels realistic. The soldiers seem like real guys in a real bad situation and they handle it and talk probably just like someone in this situation would talk. The dialogue is also great in that it is extremely funny. "My guts are out!" "Well, we'll put them back in!" "They won't fit!"

Speaking of guts, the gore and other effects are top notch. No CG here, but rather all practical effects with buckets of blood and stuntmen in body suits with probably really uncomfortable shoes. The werewolves look like your basic werewolf, except they seem to be exclusively bipeds. They're about seven feet tall (very menacing), quick and brutal in their kills and also happen to be a nice little family who live in the farmhouse when they're not out killing humans. Aw, how sweet. Anyway. There are some good gore gags in this flick, my favorite being when one of the soldiers is killed in a truck and when the others open the back door, a freaking RIVER of blood spills out. Killer. Also there are plenty of your random guts and people/werewolves being impaled. There could have been a bit more gore; what we get here only partially whet my appetite for blood. I'm just sayin', a little more couldn't have hurt.

Werewolves can be just as funny as zombies.
Big spoilers here.

The one flaw in the movie was Megan. If she is a werewolf, and the werewolves are her family, how is that she did not change until the very end? If we're going with traditional lore/myth here, then she should have changed as night set, UNLESS they changed the lore whereby one can be in control of their transformation. However, it is never explained either way so hardcore werewolf movie lovers or enthusiasts might have a slight problem with that.

That aspect of the film could also be a part of its success, though. The characters don't spend all their time worrying about finding out all they can about the creatures; they don't dig into a boring history of the mythology or all the possible ways to defeat them. They react much like soldiers would - they see a threat, and while they may not totally believe it at first, their only mission is to kill the threat and get the fuck out of there. Cut and dry, plain and simple.

Neil Marshall's directorial debut is no doubt a big hit, and regarded by a lot of fans as one of the best werewolf movies out there. Neil already gets big kisses from me because of his stellar film The Descent but now having seen Dog Soldiers (BTW, isn't that pretty much the perfect title? Kudos on that), I'd say this is one talented guy. Great shots and movement and action to keep the story going, but also able to make a genre picture about werewolves somewhat sentimental in how it shows the relationship and connection among soldiers. I like it A LOT. Great, great movie.


  1. Love it!! Great film. Although going back to your first point in this entry, I always felt that zombies have the least growth out of any of the stock creature-types, simply because all they are is shuffling corpses. Werewolves and the lore around them have been taken in several different directions (the nightmare hallucinations of AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, the "puberty" angle in GINGER SNAPS, etc) whereas zombies, whatever else they might be doing, are just... dead things. Eh, whatever.

  2. @J - Okay, maybe I didn't think that argument through very well! But how about this - zombies don't have (that I know of) a literary antecedent that sets about all the rules that others must follow or at least have some semblance of the classic storyline. A celestial event, a man-made virus... there is no set way that there has to suddenly be zombies, which makes their story much more open to change and variety as to what they are and what they can do.

    @jervaise - Whatever.

  3. @TGwLH - Ok, I'll buy that line of reasoning. ;) I may not fully adopt that point of view but I can totally see what you mean, anyhow. And the interesting thing about zombie origins to me is that prior to Romero & co.'s revolutionary NOTLD, most "zombies" were based in voodoo-type settings and were not actually rotting corpses. So there IS a bit of colorful history, there. And I heartily second your appropriately-dismissive "whatever" @ jervaise.

  4. jervaise brooke hamsterSeptember 19, 2010 at 5:19 PM

    Mr. Astro, "The Cheap Bin" has certainly taken a turn for the worse since my departure. By the way, Michele wasn`t being dismissive towards me when she said "Whatever", she was in fact (rather reluctantly) agreeing with me !!!, perhaps you didn`t realise that.

  5. How can werewolves tear apart a car and yet be unable to punch through doors? But I'm overthinking this dreadful doggerel. The only thing I liked about this movie was the Antonioni reference near the end.

  6. @ jervaise - "The Cheap Bin" has NOT, in fact, taken a turn for the worse. It was always that bad, thank you very much.

  7. yeah, a great fun movie (although I also think that it's a bit overrated)

  8. @jervaise brooke hamster: what do you mean when you say "lets have no more British made rubbish polluting this marvellous site"?
    is there really nothing you like from UK?
    or are you just as dumb as the guy from 'Dr. Blood's Video Vault' who once said that everything French is crap?