(Premiere Date: March 22, 2002 [Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Films])
(UK Release Date: May, 10 2002)
PLS: Pre-Lycan Syndrome!
Such is the basis for writer/ director Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers, and if that sounds at all familiar, then hold on to your "Robert the Bruce" Long Sword, because you haven't seen this Werewolf Movie before! Marshall offers us up a reasonable amount of set-up, in the form of a back history of our main-man Cooper (Kevin McKidd) and his appropriate nemesis Captain Ryan (Liam Cunningham), not to mention some good old fashioned man time in the form of a bunch of dudes sittin' and bullshittin' around the camp fire.
What sets Dog Soldiers aside as a werewolf movie is the fact that its completely unconventional, especially once the action gets going. There is no mysterious stranger with a footlocker full of silver bullets, no overused CGI or rubbery conversion effects and no super-nature used as a silly excuse or plot motivator here. What you get is a foggy landscape with an rarely seen predator popping out in silhouette for a snack and vanishing with a full belly. The best aspects of utilizing the unseen for the frights appear here in Dog Soldiers to great results. The varying camera work, ranging from still and quiet to spinning and confused helps Marshall convey his mood, especially when the calm is broken by a muscular werewolf forearm, reaching for a human drumstick.
It's safe to say that this is not your Father's werewolf movie, and this cycle of the werewolf goes far beyond moonlight Midol moaning. Even as the survivors board themselves into a deserted farm house with a basement full o' secrets and viral monsters seek to either eat them or turn them into viral monsters themselves, Dog Soldiers never truly feels derivative. In fact, it never feels anything but completely self-aware (after all, the alternative title is Night of the Werewolves). The second that the observant viewer starts to recognize some elements of The Evil Dead, the observant viewer recognizes that Thomas Lockyer's character is actually named "Bruce Campbell"! And it scarcely ends there, Phylm Phans! Emma Cleasby's Megan gives us an incredibly subtle nod to An American Werewolf in London! Sean Pertwee's Sgt. Harry G. Wells makes a big, fat "Did I just hear that?" reference to The Matrix, and then does it again with a quote from Zulu! If all that doesn't give you a hint what you're in store for, mind your ear drums for a reference to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan's "Kobiashi Maru"!
All of this combines to show that Dog Soldiers never takes itself so seriously that you can't access it, but it doesn't outweigh an overall affective and scary movie. All of these in-jokes are subtle, and unless you're a complete movie dork, such as myself, you might miss them all. This isn't some "horror comedy", it's well effected and subtle horror at its best, with the unseen menace of Jaws, the tense defense of Night of the Living Dead and the twisted and impossible realism of 28 Days Later.... However, for all its surprises, Dog Soldiers can be occasionally predictable. Further, though some of the characters are stand outs, others are remarkably thin, each resembling each other to the point of being generic "Purina Wolf Chow". There are also some logic leaps, none quite to the level of wackiness that the K.C. and the Sunshine Band reunion tour inspires, but somewhere in the neighborhood of Cindy Lauper's duet with Scott Weiland, or Tony Iommi's solo album. See? That's not so bad, is it?
Marshall's use of "what you don't see sure can hurt you", along with a great arsenal of obscure references, good dialogue and good actors to deliver said dialogue, tasteful effects and intentionally tasteless gore, all combine to make Dog Soldiers one hell of a surprising horror movie, that I'm giving Three and One Half Stars out of Five! It's a different kind of movie about Werewolves that sticks to the classic mythology without ever using it as a crutch or being dragged down by it. I'm happy to say that Dog Soldiers is no Dog. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to run go take my boot off up somebody's ass. I took a gander out the window at what I thought was the apex of this month's lunar cycle. Turns out it was just my neighbor Mooning out the window. If I wanted to see another hairy asshole I'd have just put Dog Soldiers back into the DVD player. Hell.
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