Dog Soldiers Review
It has been a long time since the words ‘good’, ‘horror’ and ‘British’, could be said in a film review, but Dog Soldiers emerged from 2002 as one of the better films of the year and certainly provides some thrilling entertainment during its run time, as well as some good old, working class British humour.
On a routine training operation in the Scottish countryside, a team of British TA’s come across the empty base of a special unit who they realise were attacked by something unknown. A survivor emerges, heavily injured and babbling ‘there was only supposed to be one’. Deciding to ditch their blank rounds, and take the special unit’s live ammunition they vacate the base, only to be attacked by what appear to be werewolves. Eventually finding refuge in a deserted house in the middle of nowhere, the surviving members try to live through the night hoping for daylight to arrive.
Dog Soldiers starts off promisingly enough, with the customary pre-credits scare which actually works very well indeed. The tried and trusted method of keeping the beast hidden, and showing those ‘Jesus, there’s something out there’ character reactions hit the right notes early on. There are certainly some good scares in the film, including a Close Encounter Of The Falling Cow, which stands out as a high point both in terms of frights and laughter. And the film utilises the ‘I’m not who you think I am’, and ‘Whose that knocking at the door’ clichés to its advantage. The typical British sense of humour is refreshing to see in this genre, but it isn’t anything we haven’t already seen in the late nineties from the Guy Richie factory, the Guy Richie imitation factory, or Human Traffic.
What do glow from this particular film are the performances, which are all excellent, as the characters aren’t simply repainted caricatures and do have distinctive individuality. Sean Pertwee is excellent as the officer in charge, guiding the troops with a father-like assurance making you want to believe him when things start to get weird. Darren Morfitt is extremely funny as the team’s token hard man, and hits the right tone with such Brit-ism’s as ‘Come on if you think you’re hard enough!’ The stand-outs are Kevin McKidd who swaps Trainspotting’s weedy-junkie, for a cross between Bruce Willis macho and Tom Hanks heroism in Saving Private Ryan. And, Liam Cunningham who not only lands the best character, but thrives on it and gives the best performance. His character Ryan, is the slimy, ‘you were all expendable’ leader of the now dead special unit team. Cunningham gives the character a monotonous tone as he scoffs out exposition late on, all this after we meet him earlier crying for his life and screaming like a child.
As a character piece, the film shows its best colours. For the most part, the interaction between the soldiers is very authentic which helps the film ground the fantastical events in reality. A superb scene in which Wells (Pertwee) is having his guts super-glued back together, and after drinking heavily from a bottle of Scotch to ease the pain begins drunkenly to tell Cooper (McKidd) that he loves him, is an example of this. This scene in particular is harrowing in its depiction, and authentically played out and certainly isn’t something we’ve come accustomed to in a werewolf movie. Additionally, a lot of laughs do come from the main characters, and their interesting interaction, which at times is hilariously funny, and the film balances this humour with the horror extremely well.
Director Neil Marshall, who also wrote the film, helms it in confident fashion. His gritty, jittery camerawork gives the film an authentic look, almost like a journalist companion, sent in to document the mission. At times the moving frame leaves the viewer disorientated which can become distracting as you try to make out what is going on, but it does work for the better because it instills a similar physical emotion in the viewer, as a documentary cameraman would feel living through the ordeal. However, Marshall doesn’t get the ‘seeing through the eyes of the beast’ point of view shot quite right. Unlike, for instance Predator, where the alien’s POV was claustrophobic, difficult to decipher, and tense, Marshall struggles to recreate any of that, making it look more like a old man out for a stroll than a hungry, frothing-at-the-mouth man eater, looking for lunch.
Marshall’s script is where the film ultimately fails to reach the heights of the films it stems from. Dog Soldiers’ main problem isn’t in its execution, but at its core. What appears to be a slick, entertaining lycanthropic Brit romp that punches all the right buttons, is in fact, cobbled together pieces of other movies. At times I half expected an actor to turn to the camera and wink after spouting a line taken straight out of James Cameron’s script for Aliens. Fair enough, homage’s to some of the best and most well remembered sci-fi/action and horror films of the past few decades is perfectly acceptable, in fact, welcomed because it makes for such fun viewing. However, Dog Soldiers goes a little too far (a major plot element has an uncanny resemblance to Arachnophobia for instance), in that it hardly has any remnant of story originality left. On subsequent viewings, this lack of uniqueness shines through.
Dog Soldiers may borrow heavily from other films but it doesn’t stop it having some genuine scares, and being a terrifically entertaining werewolf film. The performances are first-rate, and Marshall is an assured director.
The picture is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and anamorphic enhanced. The option to view the film in 4:3 pan and scan, is also available. The image is very good, especially seen as there are many scenes shrouded in darkness and these are represented well. There is a little grain on the print but this nicely adds to the documentary feel of the photography.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix is also very good. Dialogue is used across the front spectrum very well, with good directional qualities. Action sequences fill the speakers, while dialogue remains clear and the rear channels get a good work out with bullets flying about.
Featurette - Twenty minutes long, this contains some decent interviews with the main cast members, director and production staff, however, too much footage from the film is intermingled with the featurette which becomes annoying if you’ve just sat through the film.
Producer’s Commentary - This commentary features producer David Allen and co-producer Brian O’Toole. They are both fairly dry, but very informative about the entire production process. They do touch upon references to other films within this film, and there are more than you would think.
Two Trailers - An American trailer that promotes the DVD, and a British trailer with retrospective quotes.
With the upcoming release of the region 2 DVD of this film, with confirmed additional features, it may be worth waiting for that release. Storyboards, Making of, cast and director commentary, deleted scenes and a gag reel, four trailers, and one of the director’s short films grace the region 2 DVD, as well as the producer commentary featured on this region 1 version. Nevertheless, this is a competent release of an entertaining horror film.