Dog Soldiers

Director: Neil Marshall  
Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Liam Cunningham

It should probably come as no surprise that I love movies. I love all kinds of movies - action, comedy, drama, family, horror, science fiction/fantasy, as well as movies that don't fit into any of those categories. (Needless to say, I just took a look at the "genres" index page of my web site to remind myself what kinds of movies that I like.) While I love all kinds of movies, I have to admit that at times my relationship with movies can be a kind of love/hate thing. If you've read enough of my reviews, you will have seen that I have seen plenty of movies that made me express feelings of dislike. I admit it, there are plenty of ways that my hobby can drive me crazy. One kind of moviegoing experience that I dislike is seeing a movie that is not a real movie. I feel I have to explain this because there have been plenty of people who have misinterpreted this feeling of mine over the years. While I consider most real movies to have attributes like bloody action, spurting blood, and plenty of nudity and sex, this does not mean I instantly dislike all serious dramas. If you go to my "genres" index and look under "drama", you will see that I have enjoyed plenty of serious dramas over the years. I enjoyed these dramas because the filmmakers make them interesting instead of boring and pretentious. These are also real movies. Anyway, there are other things about movies that can bother me despite my love for them. One example is with the typical fight sequence in an American-made martial arts movie. While Hong Kong action films show quick movements, limited cuts to different angles, and usually show all of the performers' bodies in a shot, Americans usually don't do this. As a result, the fights look extremely inferior, even if the Americans had more money and resources on their hands.

There is one thing about movies that bothers me more above anything else, however. The one thing that gets me the angriest is when a movie has characters who act in a stupid manner. If you were to ask me why this movie-related flaw annoys me so much, I am not sure if I could give you an answer. Whatever the reason, stupid characters in a movie really annoy me. Film critic Roger Ebert often uses the term "idiot plot" in his reviews of bad movies. What he means by that term is that movies he brands with that term have situations that could easily be solved if the characters in the movie weren't so stupid. I'll give you an example with the Sylvester Stallone movie Lock Up. Stallone's character is forced into a maximum security prison by an evil warden and is abused in various ways for much of the movie, much to the horror of Stallone's girlfriend. The most logical thing she could do would be to contact a lawyer or even the press, but instead she just sits on the sidelines and acts helpless. I don't have any sympathy for movie characters who refuse to do the most logical thing. And that includes stupid characters who are placed in situations that would be considered fantastic and well out of the ordinary. I can't tell you how many times I have seen movies when characters face an adversary like a vampire, and act like they have never heard of this type of adversary before. If it's a vampire they are facing, they never try making a cross with their fingers. And if it's a zombie, they waste hundreds of bullets shooting them in the torso instead of trying to shoot them in the head.

When I first heard of Dog Soldiers and its premise - highly trained soldiers going up against a pack of murderous werewolves - I felt that this particular movie had a tougher challenge ahead than usual for a horror movie. It's one thing to portray ordinary people going against a werewolf, but to portray highly trained soldiers going against a werewolf, you would have to Dog Soldiersportray the soldiers as being much more smarter and combat-ready than the ordinary person. A real life soldier is an expert on combat and strategy, so I knew this movie would have to be more smart and convincing than usual. And by the way, I did know that Dog Soldiers already had a cult before choosing to review it. But I decided to review it all the same because I feel that there's still a sizable audience for it out there that hasn't even heard of it, and that those people would consider it an "unknown movie". The story: British soldier Private Cooper (McKidd, Percy Jackson & The Olympians) is rejected from Special Forces when he refuses the order from one Captain Ryan (Cunningham, Harry Brown) to shoot a dog. He is reunited with his sympathetic sergeant Harry G. Wells (Pertwee, Equilibrium), and a month later, along with several other soldiers, the two of them enter the Scottish highlands for a training mission. It doesn't take long for the group of soldiers to figure out something is not quite right, probably around the time a dead mutilated cow falls from the heavens right into their campfire. Not long afterwards, the soldiers come across the wounded Captain Ryan, the only survivor of a band of Special Forces who were also in the highlands, who refuses to tell what happened to him and his men. Soon all of the soldiers are under attack by mysterious and bloodthirsty creatures - werewolves, to be exact. Bumping into a mysterious woman named Megan (Emma Cleasby, Doomsday) driving by at the time, everyone takes refuge from the pursuing werewolves in an isolated farmhouse. With no way of contacting the outside world for help, it's up to everyone to work together to keep the werewolves out until the night is over. But with limited ammunition and other resources, will they be able to?

After what I said earlier in this review about how many characters in horror movies being so stupid and illogical, you may be wondering how the characters in Dog Soldiers do when it comes to basic (and advanced) smarts. Well, at first, when the soldiers start realizing that some murderous force is pursuing them, they don't seem to know exactly what they are fighting against. Though this is understandable, since the werewolves lurk in the shadows and stay hidden. Later, even after getting some fairly close-up looks at the creatures, they are still a little confused, and have to be told by Megan that the creatures are not all men, and not all wolves. Though to their credit, when they are told this, they subsequently indicate in their dialogue that they have heard of werewolves before, and know the werewolf rules running from silver bullets to full moons. Granted, from this point on they battle the werewolves in ways that you know won't kill the creatures, such as firing ordinary bullets at the werewolves. But the movie makes clear that there are no silver bullets at hand, and the soldiers are doing the best with what limited resources are at hand. I know that while a machine gun might not kill a werewolf, it might in the very least slow it down for a while. I would certainly do everything I could to fight off werewolves, and these soldiers do. Seeing the various ways the soldiers fight off the werewolves, from throwing boiling water on them or lighting an aerosol can to make a flamethrower of sorts shows these people are far from dummies. Not only are their defense ideas individually good, they come up with plenty of them throughout the night, with more than enough to show they are very intelligent and resourceful characters.

I have a feeling that there is a significant percentage of horror fans who will blanche at the idea of a horror movie having intelligence, feeling that devotion to it will take away from the main reason they seek out horror movies - to see blood and guts, as well as creatures that will spook them. So how does Dog Soldiers do when it comes to those categories? Well, I'll admit that there was somewhat less gore and blood that I expected, though in fairness what there is looks pretty convincing, especially one gross scene that shows a character (who is still alive) that has been disembowelled. More disappointing than the somewhat limited blood and gore is the portrayal of the werewolves. At the beginning of the movie, we are given a very limited look at them. Fair enough - that's how many horror movies with murderous creatures start out. But by the end of the movie, I realized that I never got one clear look at the werewolves - the movie throughout keeps showing them in blink-and-you'll-miss quick edits, or shows them in lengthier shots but keeps the lighting very low, even in scenes that take place indoors. All of this might have been intentional from director Neil Marshall (who later directed Doomsday), because from what I saw of these werewolves suggest the production were limited in funds when it came to constructing these creatures. The heads of the werewolves look stiff and unable to move their mouths that much, for one thing. Still, while the portrayal of the werewolves is disappointing for more than one reason, I know they could have been portrayed in a worse way. Credit Marshall for deciding to construct the werewolves in the old-fashioned way instead of going with the CGI option. CGI would have made these werewolves look far, far worse and less convincing as they do now, even if Marshall had had a lavish budget to work with.

But even though Dog Soldiers has low-budget creatures and limited gore, it manages all the same to be a vastly entertaining horror movie. The main reason is that throughout the movie a great deal of excitement and tension is generated. Part of this comes from the characters - if we didn't like them, we wouldn't get caught up in their plight. The soldiers may not individually stand out that much from each other - not surprising, since soldiers are trained to act alike - but they support each other and manage to deliver a number of lines of darkly humorous dialogue that made me root for them. Some of their accents and usage of British slang were occasionally puzzling to me, but I always got the gist of what they were saying. Since I really liked these characters, their action scenes - the main driving force of the movie - were even more exciting. As the soldiers do everything they can possibly do to fend off the werewolves, I was riveted to my seat. Every action sequence is extremely exciting and well crafted despite the low budget. The threat to the protagonists always seemed big, and there was never a feeling that they were letting down their guard at any moment, making many nail-biting moments. That's not to say that every action sequence was to be taken totally seriously. There are some touches of black comedy in the action, the highlight when one soldier decides takes on a werewolf in hand-to-hand combat - as silly as that might sound, the soldier does a lot better than you might expect, and the entire sequence will make you cheer out loud for the protagonist. Dog Soldiers delivers the goods for horror fans despite its lacking in blood and slick-looking creature effects, and I think even many moviegoers who don't like horror movies will appreciate it for its intelligence and its effective use of humor.

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See also: Bats: Human Harvest, Mutant, Night Of The Creeps