Dog Soldiers. Full moon. 50 miles from help. The only way out is to survive the night...
Dog Soldiers is a 2002 action horror film and Neil Marshall’s (The Descent 2005, Hellboy 2019) directorial debut. Set in the Scottish Highlands, a team of six soldiers led by Sergeant Wells (Sean Pertwee) and Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd) drop into the wilderness for a training exercise against a special forces team led by Captain Ryan (Liam Cunningham). Two days in, they find what is left of their opposition, with Ryan as the only surviving member. His entire team was torn to pieces by unknown assailants. With the exercise officially over, the Scottish soldiers take shelter and prepare for battle inside a farmhouse against attackers they never believed could be real. Towering werewolves working together as a unit in a six on six fight to the death. With the fables proven to be horrifyingly real, the platoon struggles to survive until sunrise at the end of the full moon. What the men don’t know is that not everyone with them in the house is an ally.
As far as the plot/story line goes, it is solid and without plot holes based on my viewings. I imagine there is a lot that a first-time director can get wrong, but Neil Marshall handled it well. There are multiple things about this film to appreciate. When watching horror, oftentimes, it doesn’t affect me when one of the characters dies. All too often, they are nothing more than tropes created to be killed. It’s not often you are given a reason to not want someone to die. In Dog Soldiers, you get to spend some time with the men and learn about them. Sergeant Wells isn’t a hard-ass drill instructor type. He is almost a father figure to his men and a brother to Cooper. He has a wife back home, and there are instances where you can see him looking at a photo of her not knowing if he will see her again. Cooper is the main star of the film and a sort of big brother for his comrades. He almost seems to have the persona of an action hero, but in preparation for battle there is a moment where you see his hand shake to tell you he’s trying to keep his cool despite being scared himself. These and other character details are what make you root for these men. The brotherhood and camaraderie they display are enough to make you believe that each of them is willing to die for the man next to him. They are trained to fight, to kill, and they are terrified, but they are in it together. This is rare in a scary movie.
As far as just how scary this movie is, it’s plenty terrifying, but what I love is how simple the scar tactics are and how well it works. I believe CGI in film was beginning to become more prominent in the film industry around this time, but Neil Marshall opted for practicality. It makes sense because the CGI in 2002 was not nearly as good as today and may have taken viewers out of the movie. Marshall decided for a more classic-looking werewolf design with makeup and actors in stilts. I found myself wondering if he had only one werewolf actor for most of the filming. Despite there being at least five werewolves at one time, you mostly see one per shot. Quick camera work and editing make it appear that there are more than one of them in a scene, though. You see early on how powerful they are, being able to rip through metal. Even the Scotts are shocked at just how formidable an opponent they’re fighting.
As far as the kills and gore goes, you hardly see anyone die onscreen. Instead, you see the aftermath of a death. There are pools of blood and guts seen up close when you get a shot of the werewolves devouring a victim. There are no limbs or discernible chunks to be seen. However, this gives the idea that the creatures completely eviscerate their prey given their sheer size and power, leaving mounds of carnage behind. You won’t see jump scares that you might be used to in more modern films. A lot of the terror comes from the ensuing fight for survival. This being where the action in action horror comes in. After the platoon makes it to the farmhouse, there is a lot of tension building. They know the enemy will soon close in on them, leading to a calm before the storm moment where the power goes out before all hell breaks loose. The climax see’s the remaining soldiers scrambling to fight back with an excellent score that makes it feel like a proper war film. The final fight feels more prolific, with a tone of soldiers fighting to the very end as the enemy closes in. It’s almost a sense of tragedy you won’t get in most scary movies.
I give this movie a 4/5. It’s a great horror film that makes werewolves scary, and there may not be many actually scary werewolf movies. So, if you are a fan, then you need to give this one a watch. I found it free with ads on YouTube. I also believe what makes it great is it appeals to fans of the action and war film genres without taking anything from horror lovers. It’s a beautiful blend of all three. So, if you want depth, action, and to get the life scared out of you, definitely add Dog Soldiers to your watch list.
Dog Soldiers (2002) Official Trailer