2002’s Dog Soldiers was one of the very first horror films that I watched – back in my first year of University (2009), my friends watched eagerly whilst I hid behind a cushion. Coming back to it in 2019, 10 years later, how did I find it?
Damn this movie is bleak fun. It’s dark, its dingey, it’s very, very gory and its so wonderfully low budget that you really must respect just how much they manage to achieve. Supported by an excellent cast, believable relationships and impressive practical effects, Dog Soldiers give us a soldiers vs werewolves bloodbath which will satisfy genre fans.
Let’s have a quick look at the plot; a squad of British soldiers take part in a training exercise in the Scottish Highlands against a special forces unit. After the first night however, they discover that they’re not alone in the woods and that the unseen assailant hunting them down may not be entirely human…I mean that’s not just it, there are some incredibly fun twists later in the film which I don’t want to spoil.
So, whilst this is a very simplified version of our plot, there’s plenty of tension to be dragged kicking and screaming from it. The setting of the Scottish wilderness is a phenomenal one as it adds to the sense of hopelessness that the soldiers feel and also gives the werewolves (no spoilers there, the cover and the name say it all) the home advantage, immediately turning our heroes into the underdogs (ha! I’m sorry…)
There’s not masses of originality here, but we’re given a gleeful slapdash of genre classics (misty woods, a full moon, abandoned shacks in the middle of nowhere, isolated campers and much more) which when all stuck together, gives us a scribbled love note to horror.
The cast is really what makes this film. With strong performances from everyone (especially Darren Morfitt as my favourite character Spoon. Seriously, he’s incredible fun and puts EVERYTHING into the role) the characters are believable as a squad of soldiers lead by the wonderful Sean Pertwee as Sergeant Wells.
What really sells their relationship is the dialogue – the way the characters interact with one another reminds me of a group of brothers, even when everything falls apart and they’re scared of what’s happening, they care for one another and they fight for one another. Wells is a hard nut, but he wants to ensure that his crew survives. He protects them throughout the film, defends them and refuses to hear a bad word against them (unless its coming out of his own mouth).
I’m really being spoiled when it comes to practical effects at the moment.
The gore is ridiculous.
We get barrels of blood, we get guts, we get people being blown to bits, we get gruesome wounds and it all looks so very, very good – despite it being so very, very low budget. This is particularly the case when it comes to the werewolves. The suits worn by the actors, well they aren’t great, but smart lighting and editing decisions mean that they’re very rarely completely seen, keeping them caped in shadow. This makes them feel more real and viable threats, rather than something to laugh at. The design however is quite disturbing – it almost looks unfinished and that makes it even more creepy. The heads and shoulders are completely wolf like, whilst the rest looks human, but elongated and sickly. Its kind of a clever design.
At times, the film takes a turn for the daft and trades tension and heart racing horror for outright comedy (a particular highlight is Pertwee indulging in a grim tug of war with a collie dog). If you just want a full-on horror film, this could ruin it for you. For others, it could help balance out the endless gore. I appreciated it, it endeared the characters to me even more and so when they met their inevitable ends, I felt sad that they were gone.
Revisiting Dog Soldiers was great fun and a real sign to me that my tastes have changed and that I’ve grown to love certain aspects and elements of horror. Whilst this film certainly isn’t perfect, it’s a good time (especially if you appreciate low budget passion projects) and gore hounds will definitely get their fill.
A slight change of scheduling over the past few days as I’m sure you’ve noticed – our double review will happen tomorrow of The Girl With All The Gifts and 10 Cloverfield Lane. Thank you all for your patience (and for reading!) and have a great weekend.