Movie Review

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  • Reviewed Format: UK Theatrical Release
  • Rated: R
  • Stars: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Liam Cunningham, Emma Cleasby
  • Writer: Neil Marshall
  • Director: Neil Marshall
  • Distributor: Kismet Entertainment


or, "A British Werewolf in Britain"

By Jason Henderson     May 10, 2002

© 2002 Kismet Entertainment Group
DOG SOLDIERS is a British horror-action film in which a small cadre of soldiers go in the woods and wind up staving off a hungry wave of giant wolves while the men bleed and fight from inside an isolated and vulnerable house. They count their ammunition even as they waste it, and because these are not American movie soldiers, they seem aware of the meaning of soft flesh as compared to projectiles and big teeth. Their fear resonates because they seem so well and yet so under-equipped. Which, one presumes, is a lot like war. When it steals, it steals big and well.

Most of the werewolf movies we've seen have been transformation movies like AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (and its late cousin, PARIS) and THE WOLF MAN. The strange, unpopular ALTERED STATES was really just an uppity WOLF MAN. The leads in werewolf movies are usually the monsters themselves, or the story is about how they become monsters. What does this mean? I suppose it has something to do with the barely-concealed predator that lies slumbering in all of us, but after about fifty years I get it. Oddly, the opposite tends to be true in vampire films, where Dracula the interloper is the rule, and Lestat the protagonist is the exception. The new British werewolf film DOG SOLDIERS falls into a smaller subset of werewolf films like WOLFEN where the leads aren't the monsters, and the point is less about why man is plagued by the predator inside and more about how man is going to keep his throat from being ripped out. And it just slams; DOG SOLDIERS is WOLFEN by way of PREDATOR, replacing creeping horror with pulse-pounding, knife-throwing, bone-crunching terror.

DOG SOLDIERS does something really fresh: it gives us a werewolf movie that follows the conventions of almost any genre but werewolf films and comes out with one of the best werewolf films I've ever seen.

The story has a young soldier named Cooper (Kevin McKidd), recently failed in his attempt to qualify for the special forces because he's too soft-hearted to shoot a dog, joining a training maneuver in the Highlands of Scotland. His commanding officer is the wiry, rugged Sean Pertwee, and the two have roughly the relationship of an older and younger brother. The opening act is laddish, as the soldiers run around, camp, whine about missing football on TV, and shoot blanks. They're clearly having a grudging kind of fun when in one terrifying, utterly weird moment, the movie changes and suddenly the guys are all worried about what might be out in the woods wanting to eat them. The team stumble quickly upon the despised Ryan (Liam Cunningham), the special forces officer who failed young Cooper. Ryan is wounded, his whole team dead, and he mutters over and over again, 'There was supposed to be only one of them.' As the sun goes down again, the movie picks up pace and the guys put on the real guns.

There's no getting out of the valley, so the soldiers find themselves at the mercy of a helpful anthropologist with a Range Rover, which leads to the rest of the movie, which stops being PREDATOR and becomes a siege film a la NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, in which the soldiers fortify a dilapidated farm house and use all their skills and ammunition to stave off wave after wave of attacks from a small pack of giant wolves.

As a

A werewolf makes his point in DOG SOLDIERS.

comment on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD this works marvelously, because here everyone is trained to survive. On the other hand the wolves are fast, nasty, and nearly invulnerable. But like Romero's zombie movie, the director moves in close and lets us care about the characters, so that their desperate situation seems more tragicsomething PREDATOR failed at, but which Cameron worked to great effect in ALIENS.

The violence in this movie is hilarious and fastfirst-time director Neil Marshall employs a bevy of war film tactics to keep the giant wolves just barely on camera, allowing us to get confused and scared by the trees, the mud, and finally the farmhouse. There's a character called Spoon who's insane, fighting one-on-one against an eight-foot wolf in a kitchen with bare-knuckle brawling and pots and pans. (This also leads to the slyest wink to the Matrix I've seen yet, and it's not remotely what you'd expect. No kung fu jumps here; but if you get it, you'll laugh.) The final act turns up the action even more, as the men start creating all new ways of moving through a house.

Of course this is all nonsense, but it's gory, fast, scary nonsense that rattles and hums like a gunship. The film is currently seeing release in Britain. Will we see it in America? Who knowswe love independent horror over here, so perhaps we'll all be running with the wolves soon.


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