“SIX SOLDIERS. FULL MOON. NO CHANCE.”
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Written by: Neil Marshall
Starring: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Liam Cunningham
Music: Mark Thomas
Cinematography: Sam McCurdy
This is the debut feature film of English director Neil Marshall who would go on to direct films such as The Descent and Doomsday and has even worked on the small screen directing episodes for Game of Thrones and Black Sails. I’m a fan of the aforementioned films so I went into this with high hopes but I feel that I’m with the minority that was a bit let down by this entry.
Dog Soldiers is the story of six soldiers carrying out a training exercise in the Scottish wilderness. Coming across the blood soaked camp of their opposing troupe, along with a survivor spouting annoyingly clichéd cryptic messages, they discover they aren’t alone. Facing off against a pack of werewolves the soldiers, along with a local woman, take up camp in an abandoned house and must fight for their lives until sunup.
Many of Marshall’s trademarks are evident in his debut: quick takes, erratic camera movement, practical effects, and an emphasis on action. This definitely has a more action movie feel as opposed to his other films, it actually reminds me of another movie that blurs the line between action and horror: Predator. A group of soldiers stranded in the wilderness fighting inhuman foes, cheesy macho dude banter, people miraculously surviving big ass explosions, squad members facing off mano-a-mano with the antagonist. Shot with a smaller budget, Soldiers even resembles an 80’s flick with the lower quality camera set up and color grading.
The acting and the script are definitely the weakest aspects of the film. All the soldiers are fairly stereotypical; Private Cooper the tough leading man with a past failure trying to prove himself, Sgt. Wells the strict-yet-fair squad leader who will do anything for his crew, Capt. Ryan the mysterious bad guy from a different branch of government, a bunch of no-fucks-given filler guys who like to rag on each other. These guys don’t seem very disciplined and organized for a bunch of soldiers. I’ve never been in the military but reloading with your back to window while enemies are attacking just doesn’t seem like a great idea to me. At one point Cooper tells his squad “shoot in controlled, three round bursts” then an attack occurs so the whole squad, Cooper included, fires wildly. Other than the soldiers there’s Megan, the werewolf “expert”, who’s kind of useless and doesn’t serve much purpose.
I’ve read some reviews with people complaining about the werewolves’ appearance, that you can tell it’s someone in a suit and such. Personally I think they look great, I like the 80’s quality to it; much better than some CGI monster. The gore, while not a ton of it, is all done with practical effects as well. I was kind of bummed out that there wasn’t a really cool transformation scene in the movie; I feel like that’s a necessary ingredient in a good werewolf flick. Also, despite being bulletproof, they weren’t very intimidating. They were easily warded off, their movements were awkward and clumsy, and they looked ridiculous throwing punches at people.
The camera work wasn’t anything too exceptional. Cinematographer Sam McCurdy has worked on all of Marshall’s films and he’s matured a lot since Dog Soldiers, really finding his own style. While quick shots and wild movement are sort of his bag, the camera jumps around a bit too much here which takes away from any sense of atmosphere that McCurdy is normally good at establishing. The still shots that are taken look amateurish and don’t really add anything to the film. The editing, done by Marshall, isn’t too great either. Between some scenes there are quick fade outs which almost make it look like this was a made-for-tv movie with the commercials cut out and the pace just doesn’t flow quite smoothly. With the score we again get that 80’s action vibe with cookie cutter orchestral parts with some emphases on percussive elements.
This isn’t bad for a feature debut, if you’re a fan of Marshall’s work you can see an obvious progression from Dog Soldiers to The Descent. His signature style evident throughout both but more honed and refined with his later features. While not the best werewolf movie I’ve seen, it’s mildly entertaining. I honestly got bored halfway though, but then again I’ve seen this movie praised in magazine reviews and apparently has a cult following so who knows, maybe you’ll love it.