Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Dog Soldiers

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

DOG SOLDIERS

5/10

UK 2002 : Neil Marshall : 105 mins

Theres nothing in Dog Soldiers to match the wit of its UK teaser trailer, a pitch-perfect spoof of the British army recruitment adverts (what would you do?) shown on TV and in cinemas before the start of the main feature. This feature probably won’t last very long on the big screen before heading off to take up its proper home on the video shelves. Its a so-so werewolf horror with lots of comic relief, and while the humour mostly works just fine, the shocks-and-scares element is much less effective.

The straightforward premise pits a rough-and-ready squadron of soldiers against a horde of ferocious werewolves in a remote Scottish forest. The wisecracking unit, led by Wells (Sean Pertwee) and Cooper (Kevin McKidd) soon realise they’re out of their depth, but are rescued by local woman Megan (Emma Cleasby), who takes them to the nearest farmhouse. As the wounded soldiers wait anxiously for dawn, they come under siege from the relentless lycanthropes

Dog Soldiers is strongest on the relationships between the soldiers the effective early stages, when the nature of the foe isn’t clear, have something of a British Southern Comfort about them. Its unusual to see this kind of mordant, unflappable Geordie wit outside the social-realism confines of an Amber film – apart from Pertwee and McKidd, the rest of the platoon are all from the directors native north-east, and they make the most of their earthy squaddie banter: I hope I give you the shits! snaps one of them as a fanged predator closes in for the kill.

But while Marshall can write this kind of hard-boiled barracks-room chat very well, that’s all he can write. The rest of the dialogue is often howlingly clunky and all the worst lines go to the hapless Cleasby. A newcomer to the films, its impossible to tell whether she can or not even Julianne Moore would struggle with lines like Up until today, you believed there was a line between myth and reality. During the chaotic finale Marshall has Megan making a link between lycanthropy and the menstrual cycle similar ideas gave the Canadian werewolf pic Ginger Snaps an intriguing thematic depth, but here they smack of anything-goes desperation.

The Megan character indeed, the whole back story provided for the werewolves makes no sense whatsoever, and there are plenty of dead patches in the over-extended running time where the audience can mull over the gaping holes in plotting and motivation. And while most of the humour hits the target, there are the occasional sloppy misjudgements at one point a dog pulls on whats meant to be a bloody bandage, but looks more like Wells exposed entrails. The end credits, meanwhile, feature a cheaply mocked-up newspaper front page with the headline Werewolves ate my Platoon!

But whatever Marshalls limitations as a scriptwriter, he handles the action sequences well enough doing effective double duty as director and editor, although hell hopefully avoid using quite so much heavy-handed background muzak next time. On a technical level, the film transcends its low budget the Belgian-Luxembourg Ardennes convincingly doubles for the Scottish Highlands, and the werewolves, though of course never fully shown, are surprisingly believable creations. But the cash obviously didn’t stretch to full-on American Werewolf-style transformation sequences: when Ryan turns, he vanishes off underneath a table to do so. Or should we take it as Marshalls homage to Carry On Screaming?

2nd May 2002
(seen 1st May, Odeon Newcastle)

by Neil Young