Dog Soldiers (15)
MONSTER movies come and go, but here’s one that makes its mark like the jagged claw marks left behind by some terrible nocturnal beast.
Dog Soldiers is that rare thing – a modern werewolf movie. More to the point, it’s an exceptionally good, exceptionally frightening British werewolf movie from first-time director Neil Marshall, picking up where An American Werewolf in London left off 20 years ago.
Taking his cue from Reservoir Dogs and Quentin Tarantino’s hero-worshipping plagiarism of the movies that shaped him, Marshall lifts plot points, mood and milieu from an eclectic range of past pictures and lovingly moulds them together into an impressive, cohesive whole.
What he delivers is arguably the finest werewolf movie ever and without doubt the most relentless, energetic, white-knuckle, edge-of-the-seat thriller in years.
Set in modern-day Scotland, Dog Soldiers follows the progress of a group of British squaddies during an exercise in the bleak wilderness. Their ‘mission’ is to avoid capture by the opposition – a crack Special Forces team.
Things take a bizarre, terrifying turn when they come across the enemy camp and find what remains of them – shreds of flesh and skin, and a lot of blood.
Only one man remains alive: an enigmatic officer who mutters darkly about something that came in the night. Taking him with them the six men head off to make contact with base. They never make it. What they make contact with instead is a band of voracious, 7ft tall lycanthropes – that’s werewolves to you and me.
Anyone with even a modicum of movie knowledge will recognise the various films that have been joined together to make Dog Soldiers. Everything from Southern Comfort (US marines lost in the Everglades) and Assault on Precinct 13 (cops under siege from heavily armed gangs) to Straw Dogs (a man defends his farmhouse from raiders) are present in Marshall’s movie.
What makes this one so special is the sheer style and verve that Marshall, who also wrote the witty screenplay, exercises throughout. Hand-held camerawork keeps the energy and panic vividly alive, while the sheer terror never dips below a nerve-jangling fever pitch.
Performances are equally excellent. Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd and Liam Cunningham (as sergeant, corporal and officer, respectively) embrace the military jargon (and the hardware, which Marshall employs throughout with the gleeful abandon of a 21st century Sam Peckinpah) while never resorting to playing for laughs.
Pertwee and McKidd in particular both come out of this as shining stars of the character actor fraternity; one only hopes they get something equally meaty to get their teeth into, and soon.
This is what indie movie-making should be about – lensing a cracking film with a committed bunch of actors, great special effects, bags of action and, most importantly, a believable script. Marshall has made the absolute best of a limited budget and has delivered a B-movie that immediately deserves cult status – a gruesome, blood-drenched, occasionally blackly comic, adventure story that works perfectly on all levels.
It crosses the line between myth and reality and shows what lives in the shadows. You will believe it.
Best moment: a hapless squaddie gets eviscerated with one swipe of a wolfman’s mighty paw and shouts “They won’t go back in!” as his innards spill onto the heather.
Gross, but utterly priceless.