Dog Soldiers Reviews
Basically a Night of the Living Dead swapped with werewolves and skilled combatants. Surprisingly good, it's got non-stop action, real human conflicts, violence and gore. Everything you need for a good horror film. Neil Marshall is a genius.
Starring Kevin McKidd (from Rome, Trainspotting, The Last Legion, Hannibal Rising) as well as Neil Marshall favourites Sean Pertwee (Skins, Event Horizon, Equilibrium, Doomsday, Mutant Chronicles, Ultramarines: The Movie), Emma Cleasby (Doomsday), Liam Cunningham (Centurion, Clash of the Titans, THe Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Hunger, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Blood: The Last Vampire, Harry Brown), Darren Morfitt (Doomsday, Warrior, Manchester Passion), Chris Robson (Doomsday, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Band of Brothers, The Ghost Squad) as well as a cameo from the Godbeast of acting-badassery, Craig Conway (The Descent, Doomsday, Terry Pratchett's Hogfather) the film follows a platoon of soldiers dropped into the Scottish Highlands, who soon find themselves little more than lambs to the slaughter for a family of werewolves on the hunt. Which I mean, lets face it, you've got to try pretty hard to screw that up.
Of course it's not screwed up, Dog Soldiers is an all time favourite of mine, and though I don't feel it could stand up against Doomsday, it just goes to show that you don't need the money or experience, when you have the creative clarity of a genre-genious like Neil Marshall. The idea is incredible, the cast is superb, the setting is fantastic, the cinematography is great, the werewolves are original and cool and the script is genuinely amazing.
While I'm on the script, I feel it's important to get around to saying what I mean by "amazing" (this time around). I don't mean that there's no plot holes, dodgy moments or silly lines (because there most certainly are those things), I just mean that the dialogue and action-direction is out-of-this-world. Awesome. Of course the calibre of the actors helps this along I'm sure, but Mr. Marshall's screen writing is just. Plain. Great.
As with all of his films (unfortunately only four to date) on Dog Soldiers, Neil Marshall doesn't take the route of directors like Guy Ritchie (Revolver, Snatch) or Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko, The Box) who try to defy genre and fuck your mind (which technically speaking I do love) instead he sticks to the genre as best as he can. He takes every single good thing he's seen, and mixes is it all up to come out with a completely unique film. Though he has throwbacks to dozens of older films (mostly from the 80's) but rather than taking a tired old formula and repeating it in a cliched way, he emulates the things we loved, and lets us enjoy the ride.
Dog Soldiers is the sort of movie you don't just watch, you unleash it on your friends all at once, it's one of the few horrors out there which is nothing but fun, without falling into that dank abyss that is self-parody. A smart, scary, hilarious and fantastic starting block that propelled my favourite director/screenwriter into the world of wonder he's still creating today, don't worry about the imperfections, just sit back, and love it.
Unlike most generic Werewolf movies, Dog Soldiers puts its characters in a more interesting context. While the characters in the film are thinly sketched and lack depth, there is a better concept for their existence as they serve as soldiers on a training exercise in the Highlands of Scotland. It is still a low budget feature, but it at least tries to make things more interesting by putting a different spin on a conventional story which makes way for more action. Instead of the characters always being completely in danger, the heroes in the film are soldiers who stand a chance of surviving the Werewolf attacks due to their extensive training. Because of this, they are more aggressive characters which is a concept written into the script to add a sense of deadpan humour to the experience which pays off from time to time. There are some funny moments in Dog Soldiers which do not detract from the serious mood of the film or the thrilling atmosphere of it all, and Neil Marshall's directorial work is refreshing for a debut feature.
Dog Soldiers is an atmospheric horror film. Things feel very intense and the blood and gore is moderated well so that the horror in the film is not predicated on shock value as much as genuine thrills. As well as that, Dog Soldiers has elements of humour to it. Much of the comedy in the film comes into play based on the screenplay and the humourous nature of the characters as soldiers in their occasionally overconfident or egotistical natures. Even if they are thin creations, they make a likable team of heroes for the story.
The main problem in Dog Soldiers is that the premise is the same basic plot that can be found in countless other horror films. Despite the plot point about the main characters being soldiers who are able to put up a good fight against their enemy, there doesn't seem to be too much of a focus about a war between man and beast which could have made the film horrific but also about the battle. There are some decent action moments in the film, but they are spread out at a very sporadic rate which leaves it as a film which fails to truly capitalise on its high concept plot. It has its moments and does have more creativity than your average run of the mill horror film, but Dog Soldiers just could have been more. For a debut feature, it is certainly a step in the right direction for Neil Marshall, but the actual effect of the limitations on the production are too often felt. Maybe this is part of the comic virtues in Dog Soldiers, but too often it simply reminded me of the simplicities and limitations of the production. The fact is that Dog Soldiers is a very simple film, a by the numbers werewolf horror film with some small elements that make it different from the more generic entries into the genre. The central differences between this film and the countless others are not enough to separate it from the rest of the shallow entries into the genre, particularly because I expected there to be some powerful concept of warfare between man and animal. I understand that the low budget nature of the film really got in the way of that being a reality, but since that was the case, it felt like much of the film squandered a high concept premise on a small budget production.
During some of the more intense scenes, the camera gets rather shaky. I'm not sure if this it to prevent the viewers from seeing that the low budget Werewolf designs are not good enough to look at for long enough or because the director of cinematography thought that this would add to the intense atmosphere though I get the feeling that it is a mix of both, but either way it makes many of the moments in the film to be rather shaky to experience. Considering that these scenes in the film are the main ones separating the rest of the feature from being more of a familiar film than it already is, it drags the experience down when it is already burdened by an abundance of simplicity.
If not for the deadpan humour and the soldiers concept, there would be little creativity in Dog Soldiers. This is a problem because as it attempts to go for genuine thrills more of the time than a gore filled guilty pleasure, it would need more of a story or greater characters to sustain it. With the film being such a thin feature clearly aimed at being a guilty pleasure, it really seems that a more appropriate direction to take the film in would be along the lines of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy. Instead, Neil Marshall takes the film very seriously and only implements in select elements of comedy when there was far more opportunities to make use of it. Like Evil Dead II, Dog Soldiers seems like a film which could be a lot better if its sequel had a higher budget and was able to make better use of its concept, but largely it comes off as tame effort even though it had superior potential. The one thing that Dog Soldiers really presents is a more positive step forward for Neil Marshall who would later go on to helm the critically acclaimed horror film The Descent. But his work as a screenwriter does not match his strength as a director.
So Dog Soldiers has the potential to serve as a guilty pleasure with some viewers due to the fact that Neil Marshall has a strong sense of atmosphere and visual style, but the fact that the film takes itself so seriously in an attempt to be a legitimate thriller while ignoring high concept potential to be an exploitive piece of fun means that it is sporadically entertaining at best.
But lets not take anything away from this film, its a low budget basic thriller which works beautifully utilizing all the right tricks in the book. The werewolves are kept out of sight for much of the time, lots of shadows and darkness, a good barren wilderness location, tense sweaty and claustrophobic with some good amounts of gore, not overblown.
Marshall really has taken a leaf outta Cameron's book, a leaf? nay...a whole flippin' bush! as previously said the film really is 'Aliens' with werewolves but its so damn fun to watch (and British made) that you have to forgive the blatant concept rip off. The small group of soldiers really work well together and you do care for them as Marshall wisely builds the characters before hand, you know they're all gonna die but never sure which one will remain in tact at the end. Of course everyone is rather cliched and predictable with their dialog and portrayals, Cunningham is the nasty outsider (Burke) who obviously will die but calmly growls and snarls his lines of doom to the rest in the mean time...just asking for it really.
Some brilliant sequences that go from outright horror to dark gallows humour such as Pertwee having his bowels/intestines super glued back inside him after a nasty attack. Things get quite tense towards the end as the lycans get too close for comfort and we start to see more glimpses of the pretty solid effects used. Men in suits of course, they do look original in design but a little like overgrown Alsatians with hairless bodies. Some good mechanical mask work but again they don't actually look overly ferocious or scary to me, I really didn't like the hairless muscular body idea.
The werewolf vision was pretty neat though, not exactly original these days but at the time it was sweet. A simple steadicam with a wide angle and a slightly undercranked film speed gave a decent eerie beast-like POV.
Its gritty dirty bloody basic effortlessly British, has a cool movie poster and you want Cunningham to die right from the very start after he kills that poor doggie. At times it does feel like it could use a bit of Hollywood sheen to really make more of an impact for some sequences and the score seems a tad lackluster. Overall this is a great human vs werewolf flick that really does show what 'Underworld' could of been.