Tuesday, 6 September 2011

100 days, 100 films; Day 81 - Dog Soldiers

#20 - Dog Soldiers

Six soldiers, full moon, no chance...
If anyone is familiar with the films of Neil Marshall then they’ll most likely either think of this or The Descent. It’s not a bad pair of films to be known for considering they both carry similar themes and plot elements, while remaining unique in their own right. That might be a contradiction but, hey I have to write something in this introduction don’t I? This film in particular has been described as a combination of Jaws, Predator, Aliens, The Howling and Night of the Living Dead all rolled into one. Now what makes this film stand out from all of them? It’s British!

We open with a brief prologue featuring a young couple on some kind of holiday in the Scottish highlands. We don’t know much about them except one night their tent gets ripped to shreds and the two of them disappear, leaving only traces of blood. Exactly one month later, a section (though the film wrongly calls it a squad) of six soldiers lands in the same area for a drill exercise with the Special Forces squadron. Not to spoil anything for you but the night in question happens to be a full moon. Anyway they find the remains of the Special Forces camp with only one man barely alive and lots of entrails everywhere. Now of course this is the perfect time for some strange group of creatures to attack them but luckily help comes in the form of Megan, a zoologist who lives in these parts and who knows a lot about these creatures. She doesn’t waste any time in telling the soldiers that they’ve been attacked by werewolves and that their only chance of survival is to last six hours in an empty cottage in the woods.

Right off the bat I’d like to say I agree with director Neil Marshall’s choice to have the werewolves played by people in body suits and using animatronics. I’m not against CGI but the filmmakers felt that it was being overused at the time and that making the werewolves CGI would take viewers out of the story and have them focused on how the special effects looked. CGI is useful for action, fantasy and sci-fi settings but it wouldn’t have been necessary in this film. If you want to see how bad CGI werewolves can get then check out the Charmed episode “Once In A Blue Moon” but then again the whole men in rubber suits can fail as well (*cough* Trog). However it worked in this film and the filmmakers did use the age old Val Lewton technique of not showing us our monsters straight away. I’ll admit, they didn’t look that convincing when we see them full on but they’re passable and don’t affect the movie at all. I liked some of the shots being shown from the perspective of the werewolves themselves, with a black and white filter on there just so we could be completely sure. 

We have a pretty formula set of survivors in this film, though all the characters get enough lines, development and screen time to make them all stand out and be memorable. You’ll often notice that in horror and action films it usually takes twenty minutes to actually bring the monsters/killer/aliens or whatever into it and that’s indeed what happens here but the soldiers are all likeable enough that we don’t mind it so much. First up we have a very underrated actor Sean Pertwee playing the sergeant or Sarge as the others all call him. He reminds me a bit of a younger Ray Winstone managing to be hilarious and dramatic as well as getting all the best lines (“if Little Red Riding Hood shows up with a bazooka and a bad attitude, I expect you to chin the bitch”). Oh and he actually was drunk for the scene where he gets his guts glued back together in the bedroom (no that is not a metaphor). We have the awesome and dynamic Kevin McKidd (allowed to be from Bonnie Scotland this time around) as Private Cooper and pretty much making any scene he’s in awesome. It is interesting to see the Sarge be the leader for the first twenty minutes or so and then have Cooper take charge once things get really serious. 
Emma Cleasby plays Megan and does really well as the sole female in the group though it’s a little strange to hear someone with a voice as posh as hers do so much cursing. The characters of Spoon and Joe (Manchunian and Geordie respectively) manage to be some of the more beloved among the fans and it’s easy to see why. When the Sarge isn’t on screen it’s them who gets the rest of the good lines with a lot of cursing, just to warn those of a weaker disposition. We have an outsider in the cast list – Irish actor Liam Cunningham poshes himself up to play Captain Ryan. His accent slips a couple of times but he fit in pretty well and I’m not used to seeing him as a villain so much.

I teased you earlier with a mention of the Sarge getting his guts glued together and now I’m going to describe that scene in detail – he gets attacked by a werewolf out in the field and they bring him back into the house, bandaging his guts up. 
When a couple of werewolves are banging on the front door and everyone else is trying to keep them out, cue Sam the dog trying to run off with the bandage, Ryan going to shoot the dog but Terry vomiting on his head. The accompanying scene has Cooper and Megan trying to glue the wound closed with him doped up on painkillers and whiskey. Sean Pertwee was indeed drunk for that scene and Kevin McKidd actually did hit him. That’s method actors for you. There’s another priceless moment when they send Spoon out to act as a diversion for the werewolves (“come on, have a go if you think you’re hard enough!”) as well as a bit of teasing between him and Megan (“I love it when a posh bird talks dirty”). Unusually for this film there is a pretty sombre scene that comes after a couple of deaths where Megan lights some candles and stars playing Clair De Lune on the piano, possibly a nice little nod to An American Werewolf In London (where all the songs had “moon” in the title). And of course the action scenes are all pretty cool, and surprisingly unique and creative. It shows they really put effort into creating those scenes because I was left very impressed with a feeling like “wow, I haven’t seen something like that before”. My favourite out of all the action scenes has to be the final raid in the house. It’s kind of like Night of the Living Dead, only much better and a little less cheesy. I wasn’t a big fan of the other fight scene between Cooper and you-know-who. It just felt a bit tacked on, that’s all.

I keep noticing that this film might be a bit of a throwback to the old school low budget B-horror flicks that are so famous now, like Evil Dead and Night of the Living Dead but it doesn’t feel like a low budget film at all. It looks polished and very professional, even more impressive when you consider it’s Neil Marshall’s first feature film. I guess you could say that there are a few “pretentious” films out there that try to pass themselves off as serious business and often failing when they can’t back it up in the film itself but this one here knows what it is, and that it’s here to be entertaining. And it is entertaining, and some people do treat that as some kind of crime. I take it for what it is, an entertaining and well made horror-action flick with the right helping of comedy. Now before you go out hunting werewolves, make sure to follow me on Twitter.

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