I have to admit, first of all, that I am a complete zealot for anything Scottish, especially when it comes to film. Over the years, the Scottish have continually produced noteworthy movies that instantly become classics. The producers, directors and actors alike all seem to have the same intuitive insight as to what makes for a tremendous film. The scripts are almost always superbly written, riddled with clever dialog; the scenes are always staged and cut with a keen eye for action and detail, allowing for the story to unfold naturally with momentum. I may be a bit biased due to my obsession with Scottish history and culture, but I have yet to find myself disappointed with any movie I have seen, thus far. The 2002 werewolf film DOG SOLDIERS, by the producers of HELLRAISER and director Neil Marshal, is no exception, keeping me on the edge of my seat till the rolling credits!
In Neil Marshal’s directorial debut, a squad of soldiers is sent out on what should have been a routine military exercise in the Highlands of Scotland. However, the excursion turns into a waking nightmare when Sgt. Harry Wells (Sean Pertwee) and his men discover the bloody corpses of Capt. Richard Ryan’s (Liam Cunningham) battalion. With the rabid pack of werewolves at their heels, they flee to a nearby cottage where they make ready for the fight of their lives…
From the very opening scene, Dog Soldiers plunges headlong into a fast and furious action build, which caused me, at several moments, to hold my breath in anticipation of what would happen next. I find it’s very rare these days that movies actually posses the ability to surprise or scare me. Everything seems to have been done before, every story told, and all that remains are special effects and extreme violence in the place of actual story lines. So, when a movie, such as this one, comes along and completely yanks the rug out from under all of my jaded preconceptions, I find myself wanting to stand up and applaud it. Not only was this movie exceptionally well paced with not a single lull in the action from beginning to end, what I found most exciting about Dog Soldiers was that it did exactly what smaller budget films SHOULD do, but rarely ever have the innovation to grab hold of.
Marshal and his team capitalized on the fear of what you cannot see, rather than what is obvious in order to build suspense and fear in the audience. Flashes of werewolf-shaped shadows, a glimpse of fangs, the scattered remains of organs through the muddy, bloody forest…all things that make you wonder exactly what is lurking out there in the darkness. Yes, you do eventually see the creatures in all of their ravenous lupine glory, but it is only because of the genius direction of the first half of the film that they are truly creepy.
This combined with a cleverly crafted script and a cast of absolutely brilliant actors (there seems to be an ample of supply of talented actors in Scotland…I sometimes wonder why that isn’t the case in America…) makes DOG SOLDIERS one of the absolute best werewolf films I have seen! I highly recommend picking this DVD up if whether or not you are a fan of werewolves (I rented this copy from good old Netflix). I assure you, you will not be disappointed.
For more information on Gabrielle Faust and her work as a journalist and film reviewer visit gabriellefaust.com.