Kevin McKidd - Private Cooper
Sean Pertwee - Sergeant Wells
Emma Cleasby - Megan
Liam Cunningham - Captain Ryan
Darren Morfitt - Spoon
Leslie Simpson - Terry
Chris Robson - Joe
Thomas Lockyer - Bruce
Genre - Horror/Action/Werewolves
Running Time - 105 Minutes
Score - 3.5 Howls Outta 4
Whenever I think about the future of horror, my thoughts go to four individuals every time: Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, Alexandre Aja, and Neil Marshall. Marshall is probably the least known of the four, although most people have heard of his two recent movies. One was the recently released action/sci-fi hybrid homage, DOOMSDAY. The other was the more impressive and probably the best horror film of 2006, THE DESCENT. THE DESCENT put Marshall on the horror map, making him a name to look for in the future.
Unfortunately, most Americans probably didn't realize that Marshall made a film before THE DESCENT, called DOG SOLDIERS. DOG SOLDIERS is a modern take on the whole werewolf film that was pretty much destroyed by those wretched THE HOWLING sequels with a few gems not HOWLING related shining through along the way. DOG SOLDIERS is definitely one of those gems. It's not the best werewolf flick ever made and doesn't attempt to change the rules in any way. And it doesn't have to, because Marshall shows that werewolves and films about the lycans can still be good if you put a lot of heart and soul into it.
Sergeant Wells (Sean Pertwee) and his squad of soldiers [Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd), Spoon (Darren Morfitt), Terry (Leslie Simpson), Joe (Chris Robson), and Bruce (Thomas Lockyer)] are expediting in some Scotland woods. Most of them complain about the expedition, wishing they were watching football [soccer] instead. After noticing some weird events, such as chewed up bodies and some injured and scared special ops agent named Ryan (Liam Cunningham) who is as trustworthy as far as you can throw him alone in the woods, Wells and his squad soon encounter a pack of hungry werewolves ready to feast on whatever is in front of them. After dealing with these creatures for a bit, the squad is helped by some researcher named Megan (Emma Cleasby) who knows what these werewolves are, who they are, and how to kill them. They head to the nearest house in the area for safety, hoping to defend themselves throughout the full moon night before daylight and help comes. Unfortunately, not everything or everyone appears to be as they seem, giving the squad more trouble they had been anticipating.
DOG SOLDIERS is probably one of two werewolf films from the 2000s [GINGER SNAPS is the other one] that I would recommend watching to anyone interested. It's pretty much NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD...but with werewolves...LOTS of werewolves. It's not a scary film at all but it's an entertaining one, as it mixes action with some black comedy to keep it a bit upbeat during a dark situation.
The story is pretty much straightforward: soldiers hike through some desolate woods, they find evidence of some kind of slaughter, they encounter werewolves, they're helped by someone with knowledge of these beasts, they lock themselves in a house and fight for survival. Nothing more. Nothing less. Neil Marshall, who also wrote the screenplay, takes what everyone knows about werewolves [silver, full moon, transformations] and uses them all logically well. He doesn't attempt to create a new lore like in THE HOWLING III: THE MARSUPIALS. There's no horrible magic subplot like in THE HOWLING II: YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF. There's no crappy CGI like in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS, CURSED, or SKINWALKERS. It's simple. It's to the point. Marshall introduces us to the soldiers and uses banter amongst them to create a reason for the viewer to care about them. There's no character development. We know who these people are through how they react with each other and within the situation. Sometimes, that's all you need to create sympathy. And once Marshall sets these characters up, then the action never stops until the very end. Marshall understands how to make a werewolf film work very well. How come no one else can do it? Why are good werewolf films so far and between? Can anyone tell me? It's not rocket science and Marshall proves that.
Like DOOMSDAY, Marshall pays homage to films or characters he was influenced by. The film, like I said, is pretty much NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD but with werewolves. But you also get moments that seem to have been influenced by ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, ALIENS, THE WILD BUNCH, THE MATRIX, and even GINGER SNAPS. Plus, one character is named "Bruce Campbell". And Marshall doesn't do this to look cool and to make money off of it. He does it because he can make it all work together and create a movie that people may have seen before but in a different twist. He uses every cliche and twist you can see in this type of movie, but still makes you care and see it differently while he's at it. That's the sign of a great filmmaker who not only uses what he knows but uses them in a way that makes it his own as well.
The SFX by Image FX was very impressive in DOG SOLDIERS. The action sequences and the gore were done believably. Loved the explosions. Loved the gunfire. Loved the blood splatter. Loved the mutilations done by the werewolves on to their victims. It worked for me. And the werewolves look pretty cool. Sure, they're guys in wolf suits. But they looked pretty believable. Especially since they're in the shadows most of the time. They kind of reminded me of the werewolves in the original THE HOWLING almost. I wish there was a full on transformation sequence because those are always cool to look at. But with the limited budget Marshall had to work with, he used it in all the right places to make DOG SOLDIERS work beautifully.
If I had any issue with the film, it's that most of the soldiers were interchangable. Aside from Cooper and Wells, the other members of their squad could have been played by anyone and it wouldn't have changed a thing for me. I know one really loved football. Was that Terry? And was Bruce the one pulled out the window by a werewolf during one of the action sequences? No wait, that was Spoon. You see? Nothing about them were really that distinctive. That's the whole point of being a soldier, I suppose, but in a film like this, it doesn't work too well.
Neil Marshall impresses in his first directorial film here. The film has a lot of style [shaky cam...whoa], energy, and heart. I loved the black and white POV shots whenever a werewolf would hunt its victim. I loved the dim composition and cinematography. The action sequences were shot with a lot of tension and suspense. Just a beautifully directed werewolf film. No surprise that he did a slightly better job with THE DESCENT. He even directed DOOMSDAY extremely well, even if the story was lacking. Marshall is the future of horror. Keep an eye on this dude, everyone.
The acting was perfect here. Kevin McKidd, who was recently on Journeyman and HBO's Rome and now a part of Grey's Anatomy, was great as the hero of the film. He was very moralistic and loyal to his squad to the very end. His toughness and willing to fight when the odds were hugely stacked against him were admirable traits. McKidd did a great job bringing depth to what could have been a one-note character. Plus, this dude voiced Jezz Torrent, the lead singer of Love Fist in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, which makes him forever awesome in my book. Sean Pertwee was awesome as the tough Sgt. Wells. I think he had the best scenes and the best lines. Gruff, intense, and fun to watch, Pertwee made the character work wonders. I loved this dude here. Emma Cleasby was great as the tough female lead, Megan. She held her own and then some with the men in the film, bringing class and grace to her role. Liked her alot. Liam Cunningham was a great asshole as Captain Ryan. I wanted to kick this dude in the balls every time he opened his mouth. That means he did his job. The rest of the actors were great too and nice comic relief for the film. A very cool cast of actors here.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE WISHING I WAS WATCHING THE FOOTIE RATHER THAN HUNTING WEREWOLVES
- "No knight should be without his sword." I agree, especially for those jousting sessions at night. And like "The Sword In The Stone", that sword ain't pulling out until I'm ready!
- Don't whistle in a group during a stealth-like expedition. You'll be "Hi Ho, Hi Ho"-ing six feet under towards your eternal bed. Don't be a Dopey.
- Contrary to belief, it's not normal for a dead bovine to fall from above onto your campsite. Don't have a cow and just skin the bovine to make yourself a leather jacket to keep warm. Then expect Pamela Anderson and Jenna Jameson to throw paint on you to show how dedicated they are as PETA activists. Who knows? Maybe you'll be able to throw your "paint" all over them later that night. See? Think positive.
- Some dude impaled himself against a branch while running away from a werewolf. Talk about going out on a limb to survive!
- Going up against a werewolf is like watching a Judd Apatow comedy: You'll be gusting a gut for both occasions. Only it literally happens when you mess with a werewolf. Ew...
- Don't ever call a werewolf a pussy. If you do, you'll be the one getting fucked and eaten like a female porn star, you douchebag!
- Megan began playing the piano while werewolves were outside the cabin, ready to kill. Either she's doing this because music soothes the savage beast, or because she's just a stupid bitch who deserves to get killed for not helping the others. I'll say the latter because I'm a dick.
THE FINAL HOWL
Finally! A very good werewolf film that doesn't involve bad actors, bad CGI, or kangawolves hurting my eyes and brain! DOG SOLDIERS is a film made by a fan for the fans, which is how it should be. You wanna see some real werewolf action? Check this flick out if you haven't. Gotta love the Brits.