At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Dog Soldiers “02”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham, Darren Morfitt, Chris Robson, Leslie Simpson, Thomas Lockyer, Craig Conway, Tina Landini/ Runtime: 105 minutes

There are movies that are very much oriented for a male audience, and then there are films that are definite guy-centric movies. Indeed for a pair of fine examples in this distinct genre then I think the two that would come to mind for me would have to be Commando and Predator. Indeed these are the kind of films that showcase straight up gonzo masculine over-the-top entertainment without even a dash of romance or a hint of outside drama to withdraw the movie from its goal of letting as much carnage and mayhem ensue as possible. A possible exception to this would sadly be Die Hard because, despite being an absolutely phenomenal film, it still manages to slyly inserting a hint of a romantic/family dynamic in order to really up the stakes. Suffice it to say then that there really aren’t that many films which are deadset on nothing more than just entertaining a group of guys with no more and no less than weapons, vast amounts of muscle, high levels of mayhem, absolutely terrifying monsters both supernatural and human alike, and finally copious amounts of blood. Thankfully we are reviewing the movie Dog Soldiers, and this is most assuredly an example of that rare genre of pure Grade-A movie magic at its absolute finest. Indeed filled to the brim with wonderfully bloody carnage, numerous bullets fired, and showcasing several brutal and ruthless werewolves that are starving for some human beings to feed on, Neil Marshall’s breakout film is a definite entry in the world of guy-oriented movies and one that guys will most assuredly enjoy over a beer or two with a big plate of nachos in the middle of a giant man cave whilst also kicking back in some comfy recliners with their bros.

The plot is as follows: While engaged in what is supposed to be a regular, run-of-the-mill assignment during a weekend of war game exercises, a squad of Scottish soldiers located in a wooded area that is known in equal measure for eerie disappearances as well as unresolved yet highly gruesome killings find their exercise heading straight into a nightmare when they stumble upon the bloody remnants of a spec ops squad that, upon investigation, is discovered to be packing some seriously high tech equipment, tranq darts, and significant amounts of firepower. There is one other key discovery to be found amongst the wreckage and that is a sole survivor of the carnage. A survivor by the name of Captain Richard Ryan and, who in addition to being grievously wounded, seems for a while capable of being able to say one thing and one thing only: “there was only supposed to be one.” It isn’t long thereafter before the squad soon figures out that they are going up against a menace that is more terrifying and brutal than any military force on the planet. That is because their new combatant in this exercise is actually a squad of giant, well-built, and worst of all, starving werewolves that aren’t equipped with pistols, grenades, or machine guns. Instead they come equipped with razor-sharp fangs, talon-like claws, ninja-like stealth, and night vision that is as natural to them as being able to see in the day is for everyone whose name isn’t Daredevil. Yet just when all hope seems lost and the men are certain they are going to die, they find themselves being saved by a stranger and driven to a house nearby that quickly becomes a base of operations for the men to quickly embark on a dual-tiered mission. A mission of not only taking care of their grievously injured Sergeant, but also to make a last stand against a ruthless and seemingly unconquerable opponent that is not going to stop until they have had their fill of human flesh. A fill it is worth noting that, to be satisfied, will require no more and no less than all of them dead…..

Now this movie really is a wonderful showcase for just what the world of low-budget filmmaking can truly conjure up given the right material and the right visionary coming together in synchronicity. Indeed managing to surpass quite a few movies that had a higher budget both in terms of action beats as well as moments of terror, Dog Soldiers chooses to utilize something of a guerrilla-style in the way it showcases the narrative and the mayhem contained therein and in quite a few aspects it actually works a lot better than a smoother style that might be found in a movie that had more resources, both financial and otherwise, in the palm of its hand. In addition, the director’s gritty way of making the film may, on a superficial level, reflect how recent war films may have been done, but this film chooses to possess a look and feel that is a lot more potent than most conventional films of the war genre and it manages to fit the bleak and despair if not the brutal tone of the film perfectly. Not only that, but Marshall chooses to utilize quite a bit of handheld camera work throughout that manages to do a fantastic job at letting the audience feel as if they are in the middle of the gory mayhem alongside the squad. Not only that, but Marshall also utilizes this technique in several black and white p.o.v. shots from the perspective of the creatures that are among the best filmed in the movie especially the ones that show the soldiers’ gunfire going through their line of sight. It should also be said that the ensuing carnage that comes courtesy of all the mauling, stabbing, and shooting is both potent and also extremely well-done; indeed it’s quite the opposite of that found in other efforts much in the same vein to be fair as in this movie things actually manage to be given a horrifically real and, in a few instances, quite disturbing appearance. Thus the potency of the film as well as the utilization of lower resolution 16mm film stock in the filming of the movie actually does a wonderful job of making sure the film does not become too dominating and actually manages to insert itself quite terrifically with the all in all viewing experience.

With all of that being said however, it is sadly necessary to point out that the accomplishments from a technical perspective do hide to some extent a few missteps that really hinder Dog Soldiers and keep it from being truly great. This starts with the fact that although the movie’s script does a good job of luring the viewer in whilst it sets up both the cast of characters as well as the overall narrative, most of the set up turns out to be superficial nonsense that does nothing more than add to the runtime rather than contribute anything meaningful to the film. For instance although the squad share some intriguing reminisces, and quite vocally make know how upset they are with the Armed Services making them take part in a training exercise the same time that an integral England vs. Germany soccer match is underway, these asides really don’t either add much or really become prominent in any way as the film goes on. Another issue would have to the fact that despite being given fairly compelling backgrounds, the characters are for the most part, save for Captain Ryan, Private Cooper, the squad’s commander, and Megan if for no other reason than the fact that she is the only female who is crucial in any way to the plot, indistinguishable from one another and honestly do very little to differentiate themselves from everyone else. Yet this is not a huge detractor and the movie doesn’t suffer too much as a result. This is because this is not a movie that is really driven by its cast of characters. As such even though it is difficult to care about this group of characters, they still manage to contribute in their own way of ensuring that the action and horror beats are appropriately thrilling enough that the movie is made worthy to be called one that you will watch time and time again. Finally I also feel that several twists that come to play in the final third of the film may not be the most surprising in the world, but they do, to their credit, help give the narrative a layer that is integral to ensuring the movie doesn’t simply turn into a messy live action Call of Duty with Werewolves blend.

All in all it should be noted that Dog Soldiers is not an outright classic nor was it ever aiming to be to begin with. With that out of the way however, what it does wind up becoming is a riveting and pretty darn good showcase for a best case scenario for what a low-budget action/horror film can be when made right and with care. Indeed it is perhaps a tad bit ironic that the thing that makes this film as remarkable as it turns out to be is the fact that, besides perhaps the plot as well as the wonderful directing work done by Neill Marshall, nothing else in this film is really all that remarkable. Indeed the film’s script is good, but the reveals by the end aren’t exactly the best in the world, the effects work is good, but not American Werewolf in London-great, and the performances are good, but at the same time there aren’t any revelatory turns on display here either. Yet remarkably none of these manage to sink this film in the slightest. Thus at the end of the day, Dog Soldiers really is, when taking into consideration its low-budget roots as well as several other factors to behold, a howling good time….On a scale of 1-5 I give Dog Soldiers a solid 3.5 out of 5.