Friday, October 02, 2009

Dog Soldiers

(2002) *****

Okay, yes, that totally rocked.

The premise is, a small squad of British soldiers is attacked in the woods by a pack of werewolves. The wolves are lean, towering, stealthy. Scariest of all, they're smart, tactical. One of the soldiers loses his shotgun to one and has to dive out of the way as the werewolf fires back. And of course, yknow, the teeth.

The werewolves are well realized. A lot of this is because the filmmakers deliberately avoided CGI when mapping them out -- the wolves are real actors, in animatronics and make-up. So they're tangible, part of the scene. The movements are fluid and natural. They sound great too. Their growls are wet and muscular sounding and when they're exhaling steam into the frigid Scottish air, we really get a sense of the meatiness of them. And the flimmakers are aware of how good they look. I only used a couple extreme closeups here, but we get a pretty good look at them many times throughout the movie. It's nice. It's less of a cheat that way.

I'd been hearing about Dog Soldiers since Octo reviewed it two years ago. The line in his review that stuck with me was, "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!"

His larger point was that the soldiers are capable. This is definitely true, but what I found even more pleasing is the soldiers' absolute refusal to give up under any circumstances. They're relentless like the wolves attacking them. At one point, we see a soldier fire his weapon empty, drop the gun, pick up a pot of boiling water, throw that, then use the pot to whackwhackwhack at one of the werewolves until it shrinks back from the door. They use whatever weapons they have at their disposal -- even, eagerly, their fists. They never permit themselves to be cornered -- when trapped in a bathroom, a pair of soldiers wedge the door shut and kick a hole in the wall to the next room. These aren't retreats, merely tactical reassessments and relocations. These guys are professional fighters and they do not scare easily.

One of the most notorious complaints about horror movies is, "Why's she still crawling away? Get up and run!" I've always suspected this is more a reflection of helplessness on the part of the viewer. When we watch a movie about people in peril, if we're at all inclined to care about the characters, we place a personal stake in their welfare. If they can't get up, if they get caught, if they get killed, we lose that piece of ourselves we've invested in them. This is one of the big turnoffs of horror for many people -- why should we take this character seriously if he's going to fail himself, and by extension us, at the worst possible moment?

This time, we get to ride along with the cavalry. It's easy to invest in them because they do whatever they can to not die on us. It also helps that the dialogue is clever and snappy and there's not a single wasted character. Everyone's worth caring about, and nobody is annoying.

This was better than I'd hoped. If I were one of the SF Chronicle review figures, I'd be the guy jumping out of his seat clapping. Dog Soldiers is a pretty well flawless piece of horror-action.


Octopunk said...

Yes! Another convert!

This is the kind of movie you hope to turn up when you're in a ridiculous contest of this sort. Five stars indeed.

HandsomeStan said...

This is precisely why this month is awesome on this blog. I feel like I'm already a fan of this movie, solely due to the incisive and intelligent and awesome review. Well, well-spoken, Fitty.

The bit about losing a a part of yourself when the character you've invested in dies was nothing short of PROFOUND.

I will be joining this party soon, I swear, but the job I'm on right now is horror in itself. Lame medical-TV-drama. The hours are horrifying.

But I do see fake blood and guts like every couple of days, so that's good.

"Mercy," airing Wednesdays on NBC. The main blond nurse chick is pretty hot. And she thinks I'm funny. And I'm doing 80+ hours each week.

For the record.

Catfreeek said...

I've had this in my queue since last year. I think I'm gonna be moving it up on the list now. Excellent review.

AC said...

great review 50p. i love reading reviews of high-quality horror movies, because it reminds me that horror movies can be just as good as any other type of movie.

Jordan said...

I like it when filmmakers take werewolves seriously. The gold standard is An American Werewolf in London; this movie sounds like it's got some of the same moves.

JPX said...

Neil Marshall is the director who made one of my favorite films in the past few years, The Descent. Dog Soldiers is great! Nice review.

Whirlygirl said...

Nice review! Sounds like my type of movie. I will be sure to watch it this Oct.

Stan, I'm glad to hear you will be joining in soon.