Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Dog Soldiers

(2002) *****

Wow! Who is this Neil Marshall guy, anyway? I'd heard this was good, but it's freakin' fantastic. I think it just replaced American Werewolf in London as my pick for best werewolf movie ever.

The story follows a squad of Scottish soldiers whose routine exercise goes sideways when they find the gory remains of a Special Forces squad who were on a black op gone bad. In no time flat they're on the run from lean, furry shapes that they can barely see. They manage to make it to a farm house, and the siege begins. This may sound like any number of horror movies you're seen before, but trust me: this is a standout, quality flick with a punch all its own.

First of all, Neil Marshall has an amazing ability to make you care about his characters in a short time. As in The Descent, he builds and develops these people all though the story, giving the high-octane climax a much richer feel.

Second of all, also like The Descent, the group of people who are hit with these extraordinary circumstances are extremely capable people. You know when you're watching a horror movie, and the screaming teens are in a car and the monster punches a hole in the roof, and you wish one of them had a knife? Well, these guys do have knives, and they stab the fucker! They're determined, organized and smart. There's no clue or detail given to the audience that the characters don't catch themselves. Having spent much time yelling at the idiots in these movies, I found this supremely satisfying.

Lastly, these werewolves are awesome. The way they're shot is just right -- never more than the glimpse that we need for maximum fright, and their long, lean shape is perfect. (The picture above is a bit misleading, as it's such a clear shot of one. I had to pull that off the net because the movie moved too fast for me to grab a good frame.) No punches are pulled with their monstrous abilities; our heroes may be capable folks, but these critters are faster and stronger and bullets only phase them for a while. But the good guys push like mad for survival, and while they're doing it you just like them more and more.

I can't recommend this one enough. Good dog!


Octopunk said...

Neil Marshall also gets points for being a card-carrying nerd. One character laments "It's the Kobayashi Maru test. They fixed it so we can't fuckin' win." and another finds a good reason to say "there is no spoon."

(Kobayashi Maru = the unwinnable battle simulation Kirsty Ally fails at the beginning of Star Trek II. But you already knew that, didn't you? Nerd.)

JPX said...

Yeah with only 2 movies Neil Marshall is emerging as the best horror director out there. I can't wait for his next effort.

Summerisle said...

I also loved this movie but I don't think it can really be classified as a werewolf film.

Octopunk said...

That sounds like an interesting discussion point but I'm also sputtering with disbelief. Because the film does, in fact, prominently feature werewolves.

Summerisle said...

Hmm. That is true. They are very wolf-like in both appearance and behavior. I guess what I was getting at is that Dog Soldiers has precious little in common with the werewolf movie of yore that portrayed the werewolf as a misunderstood, self-loathing protagonist. In this movie, they are basically a mindless army of man-beasts.

Octopunk said...

I see your point. American Werewolf in London, my former "best ever" pick for this genre, certainly followed the old pattern of making the protagonist's struggle with lycanthropy the focus of the story. However, I don't think that's a requirement, just like it's not required that the vampire in the vampire movie be the antagonist. (Zombies are a little more one-sided, I guess.)

The Howling movies have non-infected human protagonists.

Specific to Dog Soldiers, I first need to point out that, while we never see the main body of werewolves in human form, 1)we're told they're nice, normal people for the rest of the month and 2)they're not mindless, as seen by their pointed destruction of vehicles to prevent escape (in one case actually removing the fuel pump).

More than that, there's a couple of instances where you're dealing with the human characters, both friendly and unfriendly, facing a coming werewolf transformation. The conflict is there, it just isn't accompanied by the usual denial and whining because Neil Marshall is smart.

And do we really want whining to be a prerequisite here? Last year I seem to recall from your and JPX's reviews of the slew of classic Wolfman flicks that you were getting pretty sick of it.

Perhaps a distinction between "werewolf" and "wolfman" is in order.