Dog Soldiers (City Heat Productions, 2002)

Dog Soldiers is a frenzied, high-energy thriller with enough action and gore to satisfy any horror fan's appetite. The movie follows a group of British soldiers engaged in war games in the Scottish Highlands who find themselves besieged by a pack of werewolves. This film pays homage to Night of the Living Dead and Evil Dead 1 & 2, while calling to mind the drama of Alien and even sneaking in an unexpected reference to The Matrix, without losing any real sense of its own direction.

Watching this movie I couldn't help but think that the filming itself was an incredible experience. Neil Marshall, the writer and director, filmed in a location that lends atmosphere through its haunting beauty while pulling together an experienced cast any independent filmmaker would covet. Sean Pertwee and Kevin McKidd take top billing as Army regulars in this film, with Liam Cunningham playing a brooding, insensitive Special Forces antagonist who knows more than he's willing to divulge. Gritty and at times disturbingly funny scenes combine to create a kind of uncontrived, organic realism that must have taken hours of editing, special effects, and retakes to achieve.

There are two elements which can make or break a werewolf movie. The most important factor in werewolf movies, as for most monster movies in general, is how frightening the critter looks when the camera gets right up on it; this is something that often sets apart the CGI from the latex, the shoestring budget from the bankroll. In Dog Soldiers, there aren't any flashy computerized werewolves. They are instead played quite convincingly by Bryn Walters, Brian Claxton Payne, and Ben Wright as huge, lopping beasts lurking in the forest shadows, and when they are finally shown up close in the light, they are truly stunning creations. Snarling, frenzied, and nigh-invulnerable, they are everything a werewolf aficionado wants to see in a movie. That would make this worthy of a top slot on anyone's favorite cult classic list, were it not for the second most important factor of a werewolf movie, the transformation.

You know what I'm talking about -- that moment in a werewolf movie where the flesh ripples, the eyes turn color, the teeth jut and the bones run like fluid under the skin, when the torso lifts and spine stretches, all under the silvery light of a full moon. Sure, there's teeth growing and eyes glowing, but for those who judge a werewolf movie by the transformation scene, Dog Soldiers is nearly a complete wash. The snappy British dialogue with its references to Rourke's Drift and the Beast of Bodmin Moor nearly makes up for it, but some viewers will feel disappointed by this missing element.

Ultimately, Dog Soldiers manages to rise above any flaws to deliver a werewolf movie that puts most American interpretations of this motif to shame. While it isn't my favorite werewolf movie (The Company of Wolves, directed by Neil Jordan and starring Angela Lansbury tops my own personal list) I would much rather rewatch Dog Soldiers than suffer through An American Werewolf in London or Wolf another time around.

 

[Wes Unruh]

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