Dog Soldiers (2002)

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*. We’ve never gotten over our fear of the forest. And to be fair, it’s hard to imagine urban werewolves. They tried it in Wolfen, and it sort of worked, but at the end of the day these furry guys belong in the woods. In the movie Howl (2016) it seems like we’re going to get an at least semi-urban werewolf story, but then the train stops out in the middle of, you guessed it, a dark forest and we’re back in the pack’s happy hunting grounds.
*. So here we are in Dog Soldiers, heading off to the highlands of Scotland, where the nearest phone, or even house, is fifty miles away. One suspects no one can hear you scream. Certainly no one can hear all the gunfire.
*. As an aside, I was wondering when I heard them say this if there really is anywhere in Scotland this remote. Apparently not. Kevin McKidd, who plays Cooper, was struck by this too because he’s Scottish and knows that there is no place that is a four-hour drive from anywhere in that country. But he didn’t want to say anything to the producers.
*. I’d like to tell you that this is a movie that delivers on its promise of doing something a little different with the werewolf genre, but in the end it’s really quite conventional. A team of regular army soldiers go on a training exercise in the highlands, where they find out that they’re basically being used as bait so that a special forces unit can capture a lycanthrope. The wolf-men are ahead of this game, and after a quick run through the woods things settle into a standard siege picture, with the squaddies hunkering down in the classic cabin in the woods.
*. You could compare a plot like that to a lot of horror movies. I was mainly thinking of Predator, where the team of soldiers is set up by the CIA and stuck in the jungle having to fight off the alien bad guy: the predators having become the prey. But whatever the borrowings, it all plays as very generic stuff. Writer-director Neil Marshall would go on to make The Descent, which was quite an original horror movie, but here he was still spinning his wheels and churning out formula fare.
*. In some places the clichés get to be annoying. Whenever you see a guy turning his back to a window or door you know something’s going to break through and grab him. And why are they turning their backs to the windows anyway? It’s an idiot-plot move. And the old dropping-below-the-table to do a (remarkably rapid) werewolf transformation takes us back sixty years.
*. Alas, transformation scenes in werewolf movies are expensive if you want to do them right. If you can’t afford them, better to go with a finesse. As it is, this was a cheap movie (budget estimated at around $2 million), released direct to cable in North America, and they did at least manage to blow that house up real good.
*. Another plot point that comes as a stretch: If they’re fifty miles from the nearest house (not town, house), then what sense does it make to try and hotwire a vehicle that’s parked in the shed? The risk/reward calculation here escapes me. Surely, even if they’re running low on ammunition, the thing to do is to barricade themselves and try to hold out. I also don’t know why they attempt to defend the entire house right from the start. The smart thing to do would be to try to defend a smaller area with only a couple of (perhaps smaller) access points.
*. I understand that you can’t kill a werewolf with normal bullets. And I understand that these werewolves have spectacular self-healing powers (a bit of lore that goes all the way back to the disappearing scars on Larry Talbot’s chest in The Wolf Man). But just considering basic physiology and physics it seems like these creatures should need a bit more time than they take to get over the amount of bullets pumped into them. I mean, they’re not zombies.
*. Or are they? This is really more of a zombie movie, at least in terms of its structure and the pattern of the plot, than it is a werewolf movie. It’s more bite than bark. A zombie outbreak would also have made more sense, as the basic premise here is insane. The government knows about the werewolves and so sends in a small group of special ops soldiers, with no back-up, to capture one, by using a team of unsuspecting regular soldiers as bait? This is so ridiculous it doesn’t even pass horror-movie muster.

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*. I wonder why the werewolves have a dog, since clearly Sam doesn’t like them. Everybody knows that dogs and werewolves don’t get along.
*. I wish there was more here on the whole werewolf pack. The idea of a messed-up or dysfunctional family could have allowed for some interesting play. But as noted, this is a werewolf movie that really isn’t interested in the werewolves, or the idea of lycanthropy, at all.
*. There are a number of film references dropped throughout (Marshall has a thing for this), but I had a hard time buying Cooper saying that they were going to blow up the shed and make it look like Zabriskie Point. That’s a bit obscure for his character, isn’t it?
*. I couldn’t figure out exactly what Megan’s game was, though this may have been partly the result of studio meddling. Apparently they demanded that Marshall connect her up to Ryan in some way, which made the back story a bit of a hash.
*. Though it’s very conventional and without any real twists or surprises (aside from the obligatory), I still thought this was a fun movie. The werewolves look OK and the action sequences are well handled. In particular, the big fight where Spoon throws everything in the kitchen but the kitchen sink at the werewolf is great. There are also a few nice little touches like the clouds of breath coming from the back seat of the jeep and the dog tugging on Sarge’s intestines. That might not seem like a lot, but in a movie like this it’s such moments that last.

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