Post Millennial Trauma Part 3: Dog Soldiers (2002)
I do seem to be doing a lot of werewolf movies recently.
I’ve been a while between reviews in this series, and the reason being that I could not for the life of me think of a film for 2002. In the end it came down to a choice between My Little Eye (an interesting and quite gripping take on Big Brother) and this, Neil Marshall’s debut film. To be honest, I don’t really know what I was thinking about, as Dog Soldiers is not only far superior to My Little Eye, but also an exhilarating and barnstorming take on the Werewolf mythos, whereas My Little Eye is a good film, and a severely underrated one, but is never going to be labelled great.
Ah, the giddy days of 2002. I was working for a record label, and my girlfriend at the time was not Mrs. Jarv- who wasn’t even in the UK at the time. England had a crap cricket team and were about to become the best side in Rugby. Weirder still, was that the football team had romped qualification to the World Cup and the Golden Generation looked like it was about to finally end all the years of hurt. (This is relevant, trust me). In the midst of all this, I persuaded girlfriend-at-the-time that what she really needed to see was a small, almost zero budget, British movie about squaddies v Werewolves.
Impressed she was not.
Dog Soldiers opens with a fairly standard Horror scene. A couple, who are clearly in breach of Jarv’s golden rule of surviving a horror film, have gone camping. They exchange presents (she’s given him a silver letter opener, good to see people still kowtowing to Ibsen’s rule of Drama) before they get down to business. No sooner than you can say “Pedigree Chum” and they’re fucked. The second scene establishes the characters. Kevin McKidd is Private Cooper, and is trying out for Captain Ryan (Liam Cunningham) and his shady black-ops outfit. McKidd, needless to say, flunks for not shooting a dog.
That’s the establishing scenes over and done with, and the action starts properly with the full squad dropped at a remote location in Scotland. We’ve got Wells (Sean Pertwee), Cooper, Spoon (Darren Morfitt), Terry (Leslie Simpson) and other assorted squaddies. They’re playing war games as part of a training exercise. Not a lot happens, they traipse around get scared by a dead cow, before being attacked by a pack of angry werewolves, luckily they’re rescued by Megan (Emma Cleasby) and taken to a nearby cottage- where they make a spirited, frequently hilarious, but ultimately futile attempt to hold off the angry beasts till dawn.
As plot summaries go, that one is pretty sketchy, and I’ve done it just in case someone out there has been living under a rock and hasn’t seen this film. The plot, incidentally, is pretty irrelevant as the joy (and I do mean joy) of Dog Soldiers is in how damned entertaining it is. This is a rollicking film that rocks along faster than a greyhound on crack, contains outstanding character work, superb dialogue, comedy, scares, and is simply a blast a minute. I hadn’t actually watched it for a while before giving it another spin for this series, and I’d genuinely forgotten how fucking entertaining it is.
First up, I’ve mentioned the dialogue and it is simply outstanding. The characters are allowed to develop through interchanges, and all of them supply important details about who they are without labouring the point. For example, we know that fat Geordie Terry loves football, because all he cares about is getting off the stupid training mission to go and watch the England game. The Sarge tells a cracking anecdote about a Tattoo that’s simply stupendous, but my favourite exchange is when they’re deciding who goes out to be the lure “We need something small, fast, loud and annoying” (cue everyone turning to look at Spoon) who responds with a bemused “What?” because he clearly wasn’t paying attention.
What I really want to talk about, however, is the superglue scene. This has to be one of my favourite scenes in any film in the 21st Century. Wells is fucked, the wolf got him and his guts are hanging out. Cooper and Megan are attempting to stick him back together with superglue. This is, obviously, agonising, so Cooper gets him hammered on Whisky, at which point he goes through the whole drunks “I fucking love you” repertoire. Eventually, though, he decides that it’s not working and Cooper is going to have to knock him out- Cooper duly delivers the blow, and he drops like a sack of spuds. To which he then sits up and says “is that all you’ve got you fucking pussy”, thereby obliging Cooper to clean his clock again, with rather more success. This scene, although it sounds pretty grim, is actually played for laughs and is so expertly performed that it is simply downright hilarious, and is just one example of many great individual moments in a stonking film.
Which brings me neatly around to the acting. Pertwee, McKidd, Cunningham and Morfitt are simply excellent in their various roles, but unfortunately there is a big lag in the acting stakes- Cleasby, while not awful, is simply not up to scratch as Megan and it doesn’t help her that she has some of the clunkiest dialogue in the film “I’m a real bitch” leaping to mind. Furthermore, on this note, the twist is so fucking painfully obvious that it’s a bit insulting on rewatch, even if I did let it slide on first viewing.
The next minor flaw is the special effects. Marshall clearly was operating off an extremely limited budget, and as such a full wolf transformation was completely out of the question. However, the gore scenes are messy and well handled, but the actual wolves themselves are, how can I put this, crap. To compensate, Marshall hides them in dark lighting or obscure angles and fast editing and so manages to mostly negate this otherwise catastrophic and deal breaking failure. The only real complaint that I have about them is the final showdown- when we see the wolf in it’s full, erm, glory and it doesn’t look great.
Dog Soldiers is also an extremely British (specifically English) film. A huge amount of the vernacular that the characters use is pure common English, and there are multiple references in the film, particularly to football, that I’m sure whip clear over the heads of most American viewers. For example, Marshall uses the greatest piece of sporting commentary ever (from the redoubtable Kenneth Wolstenhome) as the eventual pay-off line: “They think it’s all over… it is now”. Finally on this note, circumstances outside of the film conspired perfectly, so when Marshall presents the faked National Enquirer cover “Werewolves ate my platoon” is relegated to the sidebar as the only thing more unlikely than that managed to dominate the front page: England 5 Germany 1.
And it really happened.
Overall, this is an outstanding debut. It’s a touch rough around the edges but is never less than a blast. Dog Soldiers is a rip-roaring and monstrously entertaining British take on the Werewolf movie, and is actually not only a nice reminder that going to the cinema is meant to be fun, but is also one of the finest beer and pizza movies of the last decade. I give it three and a half Churchills out of 4 and cannot recommend it enough.
Until next time,