Megan: “Up until today you believed there was a line between myth and reality. Maybe a very fine line sometimes but at least there was a line. Those things out there are REAL. If they’re real, what else is real? You know what lives in the shadows now. You may never get another night’s sleep as long as you live.”
Neil Marshall became huge in Horror circles as the writer/director of The Decent in 2005 (definitely one of the 10 best Horror films of the 21st Century to date), but his previous Creature Feature, Dog Soldiers, is extremely impressive as well. Dog Soldiers along with the film Ginger Snaps were both released right around the turn of the century, and both radically redefined/subverted standard werewolf mythologies–albeit in very different ways. Ginger Snaps was a uniquely feminized spin on the classic lycanthrope troupe becoming a metaphor for puberty and menstruation. Dog Soldier, on the other hand, explores the potential weaponization of werewolves, a theme that will later become a staple of the Underworld Franchise.
Check out my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: A British Squad is sent on a training mission in the Highlands of Scotland against Special Operations squad. Ignoring the childish “campfire” stories heard about the area, they continue with their mission and come across the bloody remains of the Special Ops Squad, and a fierce howling is pitching the night sky… With two mortally wounded men, they make an escape, running into a zoologist by the name of Megan – who knows exactly what hunts them. What began as what they thought was a training mission turns into a battle for their lives against the most unlikely enemies they would have expected – werewolves.
Dog Soldiers reinvents the concept of the werewolf for a Post 9/11 world. In 2002, the year the film was released in England, the soldiers would have no doubt been training for a possible deployment to Afghanistan. The fact that the squad finds themselves completely overwhelmed reflects real military anxieties; whereas previous wars were fought against comparatively known enemies, battling the Taliban would present new and terrifying challenges–most of which were unknown at the onset of the conflict. It’s hardly uncommon to portray ones enemies as animalistic (or otherwise less than human); primitive and soul-less. But Dog Soldiers presents an enemy that is both beast-like and physically superior–a new type of nemesis all together. Dog Soldiers illustrates our societies’ changing views of war as well as our interpretation of “monsters”.
In addition to reinventing werewolf mythology, Dog Soldiers also manages to reinvent itself as the film progresses. At first, we have a paramilitary battle in a dense forest between an elite squad and a creature of unknown origins. It looks and feels a lot like Predator; we’re even given an occasional dog’s-eye view of the situation, in black and white of couse since wolves are color blind. Act 2 finds the protagonists hunkering down in an abandoned farmhouse; at this point, Dog Soldiers feels like a high octane Home-Invasion film, incredibly reminiscent of Straw Dogs. The final act of the film is pure old-school Horror with elements of An American Werewolf in London and Evil Dead. The way the story evolves and mutates throughout keeps the film feeling fresh and inventive (even when it’s not).
Kevin McKidd (Trainspotting) is awesome as main protagonist Private Cooper; his interactions with squad Sargent Wells (Sean Pertwee, The Seasoning House) and fellow commando “Spoon” (Darren Morfitt) are always top notch. Their gung-ho camaraderie shines and their dialog crackles. Even though their British accents make them all sound classy, their words are actually hysterically base, filled with allusions to balls and shit. Pertwee steals the show in a scene where he is heavily intoxicated in preparation for some meat-ball surgery.
“Easter Eggs” are cleverly hidden throughout the film in character names and in the dialog. Sargent Wells full name is Harry G. Well, an obvious shout-out to author H.G. Wells. One of the other soldiers is named Bruce Campbell, a reference to the actor who stars as Ash in the Evil Dead Franchise. As the men prepare for battle, Sarget wells reminds his men to engage with “Short, controlled bursts”, a line of dialoge taken from Aliens. Obviously, Marshall is a fan of Horror and wants us to know his influences.
The creature FX are fan-freakin’-tastic; while I did detect a touch of CGI, most FX were practical and/or animatronic and the gore was excessive and nauseating (and that’s meant as a compliment). There are a couple cool “twists” that you can figure out if you’re paying close attention. Everything about Dog Soldiers feels exciting and inventive. Include lots of action and splendid pacing and you’ve got an absolute winner here.
While rumors swirled for years about a Dog Soldiers sequel (or reboot, or American Remake) nothing has ever materialized, making chances at this point seem rather slim. Marshall is busy these days writing for television, specifically: Games of Thrones, Black Sails, and Constantine (which is kind of a waste of his talents if you ask me). But if Dog Soldiers never becomes a franchise, at least this film will remain a singular example of exemplary Horror.
4 out of 5 Skull Heads.
|Directed by||Neil Marshall|
|Produced by||Brian Patrick O’Toole
David E. Allen
|Written by||Neil Marshall|
|Music by||Mark Thomas|
|Editing by||Neil Marshall|
|Release dates||10 May 2002|
|Running time||105 minutes|