Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dog Soldiers: Neil Marshall's Werewolf Debut

I wasn’t too sure about Dog Soldiersat first.  The 2002 release was Neil Marshall’s first feature film (he wrote and directed it).  I saw his second, The Descent, and left feeling it was pretty standard horror.  Would Dog Soldiers be any better?

After the typical introductory sequence showing that there’s something bad in them there woods, the film gets started with a group of soldiers on a training exercise in Scotland.  It’s a slow start, with a lot of banter designed to establish the characters before anything happens (some might say too much banter, but you do end up getting to know the characters more than in most horror films).  Eventually, the team comes across the remains of a special forces team, badly mauled, with Captain Ryan (Liam Cunningham) the only survivor.  Out of radio contact, the soldiers are soon under attack by a werewolf clan, and this is where the film makes up for its slow start.

Eschewing CGI, Marshall went with animatronics and large men in werewolf suits and stilts.  This could have ended up looking cheesy, but fortunately it works very well, creating unique humanoid wolf-headed creatures.  The animatronic heads are particularly convincing.  Once the soldiers become trapped in a farmhouse with the wolf-men trying to get in à la Night of the Living Dead, Marshall provides his audience a very effective series of action sequences with plenty of scares and gore.    

What makes the film even better is the unexpected humor provided by Marshall’s inventive scenes and well-written dialogue.  The gruff but lovable Sergeant Wells (Sean Pertwee) has his intestines ripped out, leading to the following exchange with the protagonist, Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd):

“My guts are out!”
“Well, we’ll just put them back in again!”
“They’re not gonna fit!”
“Course they’ll fit, man!”

Later, Sergeant Wells’ errant intestines provide more humor as a hungry dog tries to steal them while they’re still attached to the Sergeant, and when Cooper tries emergency surgery with superglue and copious amounts of whisky.  The actors all do well in their roles; it’s obvious they had a lot of fun making this movie.     

Dog Soldiers mostly sticks to the tropes and doesn’t really break new ground in horror, but the acting, clever dialogue, well developed characters, and nice special effects make it a superior werewolf offering.  

I didn't include the trailer because it's terrible and will make you not want to watch the movie; the link is here  if you're really interested. 

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