Dog Soldiers (2002)
Dog Soldiers (2002)

Genre: Action and Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.

Release Date: November 5th, 2002 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Neil Marshall Actors: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham, Thomas Lockyer, Darren Morfitt, Leslie Simpson, Chris Robson

 


 

I

n Scotland, a camping couple is having an intimate moment when they’re suddenly attacked by what seems to be a monstrous wolf. Two hours earlier, in North Whales, elite soldier Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd) fails his training mission when his immoral commanding officer, Captain Ryan (Liam Cunningham), orders him to shoot a dog – and the trooper refuses. Four weeks later, in the Highlands of Scotland, an army platoon disembarks from a helicopter to begin an exercise. Sergeant Harry G. Wells (Sean Pertwee) leads the commandos (which now includes Cooper), called Spearhead Patrol, who are pretending to be behind enemy lines, armed with blanks against a team of Special Forces members guarding various barracks throughout the area.

After they make camp and settle in for the night, the enormous body of a cow falls into their circle, apparently killed by some sort of predator. It gives them a spook, but they don’t break radio silence over the incident. The following morning, the squadron stumbles upon the base of Special Ops leader Ryan, who is severely injured and hysterical and appears to be the only survivor of his own group, out on a secret mission unrelated to the training routines. When they’re unable to call for an emergency airlift, they venture deeper into the woods to a checkpoint, only to be ambushed by a horde of toothy werewolves. Zoologist Megan (Emma Cleasby) happens by in a truck, ferrying the men to the momentary safety of a nearby farmhouse situated in a glen, before plans are made to retreat back down the road to Fort Williams – over four hours away.

The accents, regional expressions, and Scottish vernacular are a bit troublesome, especially considering the rather sizable amount of dialogue used to establish a sense of camaraderie and to develop a few personas to be more amusing than typical monster movie fodder. They jokingly harass one another as they ascend a hill, poke fun while trudging through the forest, or tell military tales as they sit around a campfire, smoking cigarettes. Even during sequences of tense combat, the soldiers bark orders or yell insults before returning to the discharging of short, controlled bursts.

On a technical level, the film leaves a bit to be desired. The gore effects aren’t particularly convincing, though the low budget obviously prevents grander resources. The lighting also betrays substandard equipment, even if the general graininess and amusingly dim passageways provide avenues for standard horror movie jump scares. The editing similarly attempts to cover up budgetary restrictions, with rapid cutting, fast zooms and pans, and a first-person camera perspective (occasionally in black-and-white) that mimics the movements of the antagonists (imparting a vibe as seen in “The Evil Dead”). And the moment for a visible werewolf transformation is obscured by a conveniently placed dining table. Nevertheless, many of the cinematography tricks are surprisingly effective.

In addition, all the actors approach the subject matter with fitting seriousness, while the survivalist thrills retain genuine gravity. The action is also incredibly fast-paced. Like the most well-balanced horror flicks, “Dog Soldiers” incorporates a bit of humor, subtly mixed into the adventure, including the Sergeant attempting to push his intestines back into his torso after receiving an eviscerating swipe to the stomach (he continues to be inexplicably mobile), Sam the dog chewing at the bandages during a hectic defense of the front door to the fort, a punch to the face substituting for ready anesthesia, and accidental vomiting on Ryan’s head.

The werewolves behave comparably to the xenomorphs in “Aliens,” exhibiting a formidable intelligence, speed, and towering frames, while the military outfit attempts to match the power of the Colonial Marines. The comparisons don’t stop there: percussion-heavy marches pervade the soundtrack, a strong female outsider is the most knowledgeable when it comes to the enemy, lone warriors are isolated and tasked with solving problems in addition to the monsters, vehicles are regularly used to move across short distances, doors are sealed shut, diminishing ammo is safeguarded, last stands are made, a human baddie is quick to turn on those who protect him, and a generator is cut by the werewolves to flood their prey with blackness. Even though it’s derivative, writer/director Neil Marshall has chosen wisely for his source of influence, fashioning an impressive action and horror hybrid with enough good ideas to overcome the faults.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10