"…I expect nothing less than gratuitous violence from the lot of ya."

So today I’m all set to talk about a movie I’ve actually seen. Exciting, yes?

Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers. This is a pretty awful trailer, but it kind of captures some of the feel/problem of the film, so…

You can tell the distribution company had some doubts due to the number of dribbling fanboy reviews excerpted before you see a frame of film.

This isn’t entirely deserved skepticism — there are bits of Soldiers that are really quite awesome. Spoiler warning: Er. There are some, so be warned.

Anyway, quick summary: we open with a couple camping in the wilds of Scotland by something growly. We cut to a soldier running through the woods; turns out he’s been trying out for some kind of Special Ops squad and fails the cut for some really “plot point! plot point!” reasons. Cut to full British Army squad — including our opening scene failure — being dropped in the woods of Scotland for a “live exercise.” Things go rapidly downhill. Turns out Scotland is — those of us who have been watching Being Human already knew this, of course — totally infested with werewolves. These, though, aren’t slightly flash, slightly grungy wideboys like Human‘s Tully — these are big, fast, nasty, and very very smart.

I was kind of mis-sold on Soldiers — someone told me it was the werewolf equivalent of 28 Days Later. It isn’t — but it is a totally respectable werewolf flick. I have sat and watched way worse than this (Devil’s Tomb, anyone? The Jaws sequels?).

One strength Soldiers has on its side right from the start is the cast: Sean Pertwee as the sergeant of the protagonist squad; Liam Cunningham as the human bad guy; and Kevin McKidd as the “failed” grunt who makes good. Not to mention Emma Cleasby as our somewhat dubious “rescuer” who knows a lot about werewolves. A lot a lot about werewolves.

There’s a good, reasonably sharp script — we’re not talking Guy Ritchie in his Lock, Stock, and 2 Smoking Barrels phase, here — but the characters ring reasonably true and are all individual enough that we can tell them apart even if we can’t be bothered to remember their names, as I couldn’t. There are some startlingly good touches: one of the squaddies spends most of the movie complaining, with increasingly good cause, that he’s missing the footie (England v. Germany ) to bugger about in the woods of Scotland. After he’s eaten — rather unrealistically, by the way: a were rips off his head and his insides apparently fountain out as though his ribs had been gently blendering his internal organs all along; I’m pretty sure humans are slightly more solid than that. Anyway, during the credit crawl, we’re shown some newspaper front pages as our lone survivor tries to get the word out. One of them has a huge headline: “England 5; Germany 1.” Nice touch.

Don’t go to Scotland for a camping holiday, apparently.

So there are a fair number of nice little touches in this movie — the relationship between all the squaddies is pretty fair; some of them have nice stand-out character moments; the weres are just fucking awesome: big, bad, scary, and very smart. There’s a great moment during a stand-off in the cottage where the squad retreats where one young man is firing through a window at a were; he goes to punch with the butt of the gun; the were grabs it out of his hands; the soldier dives for cover; there’s a moment of silence, then two rapid-fire shots from outside the window, and then gun is tossed back on the floor with a definitively disgusted growl. 🙂

Marshall loves him some blood and guts which doesn’t necessarily serve the movie very well; the question of whether or not poor old Sergeant Pertwee could have actually survived the gut wound he receives early in the film bugged me until the closing credits. The young man who apparently has liquid insides, ditto. Perhaps my suspicion is unfounded, but I don’t think some of these things would work. And so much in the rest of the movie did look like it would work and was believable that these moments really stuck out. “Like a sore thumb” simply doesn’t describe it.

As a closing thought, it was nice to have a monster movie where the cast didn’t have to take half the movie to figure out what was going on and be convinced of its truth. I realise it’s a trope of the genre that the characters have never seen a horror movie in their lives, never read Dracula or Frankenstein, never seen I Was a Teenage Werewolf, or read a Stephen King novel, but it can get a little old. I prefer people who are a little more willing to deal with the reality in front of them.

Final man and…dog?
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