Dog Soldiers ReviewJoe Shaffer
Dog Soldiers is an unabashed thrill ride with wolfmen. The film revolves around a team of British soldiers (Kevin McKidd amongst them) holed up in a house, attempting to fend off a pack of werewolves. There are no love story subplots, dramatic moments in which characters yammer on about their past, or indiscreet bits of social commentary leaping down your throat. Rather, what you'll see is a ton of foul-mouthed warriors pumping bullets into lycanthropes whilst constantly inquiring after football scores.
What I mean is that Dog Soldiers doesn't attempt to reinvent the wheel. It's self-aware, and is cognizant of the fact that it's a werewolf flick. With that knowledge in mind, it plays heavily to its strengths with a simple plot, loads of tension, swift pacing, and plenty of humor.
Of course, the movie would be nothing without hair-brained schemes hatched by our heroes in an attempt to bring the audience to the edge of their seats. During one such excursion, a couple of soldiers leave the relative safety of the house to fire up a vehicle stored in a barn. Obviously, this is a terrible idea, but one that could pay off. It's situations like this--bold and seemingly thoughtless, yet not completely idiotic--that make up a good, suspenseful action-horror flick.
Although some might complain that the characters have little depth, I still found them all quite charming. The rational Private Cooper, for instance, is the kind of protagonist anyone could easily root for. He keeps a fairly level head even during the most disastrous occasions, reminiscent of Ben from Night of the Living Dead. Private Spoon, on the other hand, is much more volatile, but enjoyably so. This is a man so in love with combat that at one point he realizes he has no useful weaponry at his disposal and takes to fist-fighting one of the werewolves.
Best of all is that the film's antagonists are not computer generated beasties. Instead of pitting a contingent of soldiers against unconvincing "cartoon" creatures, the film relies mostly on practical effects; you know, animatronics and suits. No, I'm not opposed to CGI monster movies--The Host and Absentia are both terrific CG creature features--but I find practical effects more impressive. There's a ton of technical work and finesse that goes into designing and building a suit or a puppet, not to mention coaxing it into moving realistically. This also helps the actors out tremendously, as they can actually see the terrors before them rather than having to pretend they're in the presence of a supernatural predator. At times, you can tell when an actor is screaming at a CG monster (i.e. something that isn't actually there, that they have to pretend is before them), because the acting isn't always as convincing.
I know this piece is a bit short, but it shouldn't take long to say that Dog Soldiers is a fun film, one that proudly carries the torch once hoisted by such flicks as Army of Darkness, Demons, and Braindead/Dead Alive. It's not the kind of picture that'll leave you pondering what director Neil Marshall was trying to communicate to his viewers. All the movie wants you to do is grab some refreshments and a few friends and enjoy the ride.
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