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Dog Soldiers (2002)

-- Review by Nic Brown--

Werewolf movies seem to be very hit or miss. This has especially been the case since CGI special effects have become readily available for lower budget films. That is why I wasn’t honestly expecting much when the Sci-Fi channel had “Dog Soldiers” as their Sci-Fi original movie of the week. I was very pleasantly surprised once the film got going.

Writer & Director Neil Marshall (who also did “The Descent”) put together one of the best Werewolf films I’ve seen in years.

The film doesn’t waste time getting started. The opening scene sets the stage for the action to come as we watch two weekend campers become victims of the werewolves’ horrific taste for human flesh. The actual scene in the tent when the werewolves come for them is creepy and hints at the human intelligence within the beasts in the way they carry out their attack.

Marshall then introduces us to a squad of British Army regulars on a training exercise in the Scottish wilderness. They are playing cat and mouse with a Special Forces squad, an exercise they are clearly meant to lose. Sgt. Wells (Sean Pertwee) commands the squad. A combat experienced officer from the Gulf War, he doesn’t intend to go down easily, but most of his squad would prefer to be back at the base watching football (soccer to us heathen Americans).  

 

The mission quickly goes wrong, and by the second day the squad finds the remains of the Special Forces team they were supposed to be training with. There isn’t much left of the team, but they do find a lot of strange equipment. Coupled with the discovery of tracking devices in their radio gear, it soon becomes apparent that their squad was not training with the team; they were being used as bait for something else. A seriously wounded operative, Captain Ryan (Liam Cunningham), confirms this but isn’t much help beyond that.


Now the squad realizes that whatever killed the Special Forces team is after them. They try to escape through the woods, but something, they aren’t sure what, is in pursuit. Their guns won’t stop the beasts chasing them; they only seem to slow them down and it looks like they’ve had it until a woman named Megan (Emma Cleasby) picks the squad up and drives them to the “safety” of a nearby farm house. She knows about the werewolves and hopes she can escape them with the squad’s help. From here on the film takes on a siege mentality similar to “Night of the Living Dead” as the soldiers and Megan try to survive until dawn. As they are picked off one by one and the ammunition starts running low, the situation becomes desperate.

 

The film works well on several levels. Marshall develops the characters nicely, allowing the viewer to begin caring about them. Character empathy is an aspect overlooked by many horror films today, where the audience sees the same one dimensional characters killed over and over again without ever feeling anything. The story mostly follows one soldier, Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd) and his growth into a leadership role after Sgt. Wells is seriously wounded.

The other thing that Marshall does extremely well in this film is the special effects. He avoids the common trap of many films and steers clear of cheap CGI. Marshall couples creative cinematography with good solid special effects to make the werewolves seem real. The audience isn’t allowed to stare at the werewolves and pick the make-up apart; rather, the views are quick and darting in most cases, which fits with the style of the film. When we do see the werewolves up close, they look really good, reminiscent of the creatures from “The Howling”, only tall, lean and extremely dangerous looking. The overall effect is excellent and allows the audience to enjoy the story without being distracted by bad special effects. After all, the purpose of FX is to add to the story’s believability, not to distract the audience away from it.

 

“Dog Soldiers” works and it works well. It is suspenseful, scary and it holds a number of surprises. Neal Marshall has establishing himself firmly in the horror genre with this film and his later work, “The Descent”. I look forward to his next project, whatever it may be!



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