Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #117
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: May 10, 2002
Sub-Genre: Werewolf/Survival Horror
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Box Office: $5,491,093
Running Time: 105 minutes
Director: Neil Marshall
Producers: Christopher Figg, Tom Reeve, David E Allen, Keith Bell, Brian Patrick O’Toole
Screenplay: Neil Marshall
Special Effects: Dave Bonneywell, Harrie Wiessenhaan
Visual Effects: Bob Keen
Cinematography: Sam McCurdy
Score: Mark Thomas
Editing: Neil Marshall
Studio: Kismet Entertainment Group, The Noel Gay Motion Picture Company, Carousel Picture Company
Distributor: Pathé Distribution, First Look Home Entertainment
Stars: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham, Thomas Lockyer, Darren Morfitt, Chris Robson, Leslie Simpson, Tina Landini, Craig Conway, Bryn Walters, Ben Wright, Brian Claxton Payne
Suggested Audio Candy
 Mark Thomas “Dog Soldiers”
 Mark Thomas “Sarge’s Theme”
Werewolves just don’t get the representation if you ask me. While vampires are never far from our screens, their furry cousins are passed over time and again and seldom receive the credit they richly deserve. With the exception of John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London, Joe Dante’s The Howling, and Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves, it has been slim pickings for our bipedal friends for the past thirty years or so and they’ve been largely consigned to the sidelines. So, when the moon is at its fullest and a new werewolf movie lands in our laps, it’s a moment to savor and our flagging hopes receive the shot in the arm they have been crying out for indefinitely. While the aforementioned have made the very most of some excellent practical work, particularly during their all-important transformations, we live in a different age now and technology has moved on considerably during the interim. Computerized effects are often preferred to latex and ingenuity nowadays and, as a lifelong Gruehead and proud retro-fiend, this is far from music to my ears.
To be fair, my emotions regarding CGI are decidedly mixed and I would be foolish to claim that it doesn’t have its uses. In a big budget lavish technical extravaganza, there really is no alternative and James Cameron’s big-budget epic Avatar would’ve never seen the light of day had said technology not have been available. Meanwhile, can you imagine the financial implications for The Wachowskis of recreating a posse of Agent Smiths for Matrix Reloaded without one helluva digital bail-out? That said, the regulations are different for horror. The petulant runt of the litter need not march to the beat of anyone else’s drum and is well within its rights refusing point-blank to keep up with the Joneses. Indeed, it is my opinion that there is precious little necessity for CGI within this particular genre, unless the funds are in place to implement it both effectively and with subtlety. You want to generate apprehension? Then rip up the green screen, put the computer on standby and slap on the cosmetics instead.
Step up Neil Marshall and the English filmmaker held that precise belief when bringing Dog Soldiers to the table, believing that a fable as insular as his would hold far greater clout if he took things back to the nuts and bolts. The lycanthropes in his feature are tall, so very tall. They’re also gloriously primitive, driven by their instincts and insatiable appetites, while looking 100% authentic. By using animatronics and body suits with stilts he strips the well-trodden theme back down to its bare framework, taking much inspiration from the likes of practical SFX wizards Rick Baker and Rob Bottin, then compressing it into a package tighter than Michael Fassbender’s swim shorts and more oppressive than a Nazi day spa.
“Sweeping patrols between each of these bunkers – they’ll have the whole sector wrapped tighter than an Eskimo’s nad-sac”
Dog Soldiers is as gritty as its protagonists and as overbearing as its aggravators. Marshall’s film drops us way beyond enemy lines in the Scottish Highlands alongside a six-strong military unit tasked with carrying out an SAS training exercise. With their corporal swiftly impaled on a tree branch and an unidentified aggressor attacking the group before they can gain their coordinates, it is left to the ballsy Sergeant Wells (Sean Pertwee) to lead from the front. Privates Lawrence (Kevin McKidd), Witherspoon (Darren Morfitt), Kirkley (Chris Robson) and Milburn (Leslie Simpson) duly fall into formation and, with fast nightfall approaching, the band of brothers are presented with a welcome lifeline after happening across friendly zoologist Megan (Emma Cleasby) and being cordially invited to spend the night at her secluded rural home.
“Open your mouth, watch your ears, mind your toes!”
For as badass as our grunts believe themselves to be, they are clearly not in the ascension here and, with the ultimate pincer movement pushing them into quarters way too close for comfort and not so much as the faintest idea of who or what is posing this ominous threat, they’re only too happy to take her up on her invite unaware that, by doing so, they are falling for the oldest trick in the training manual. Now soundly cornered in a building which cannot withstand any great punishment, it is left to Wells to rally his troops and stand their ground against wave after wave of inhospitable assailants. To make matters worse, the moon is full and the communal howling outside suggests that their weapons may not cut the mustard here. However, they don’t even know the half of it yet as their congenial host is waiting for the right time to make a confession of her own.
“You may think all women are bitches… but I’m the real thing”.
This is boy’s own stuff and Marshall crafts a testosterone-fueled action flick which doesn’t forget it’s primarily a horror movie. It pulls its punches like a boxing marsupial, dodging and diving like the prize-fighter it knows damned well it is. Meanwhile, Pertwee is an inspired choice to play the Sarge and gleefully chows down on any roughage without condiments. Michael J. Bassett’s half-decent survival flick Wilderness offers further proof of this theory as the man doesn’t even shed a tear in an onion field. Instead, he leads from the front with purpose, conviction and a fierce allegiance to his cause. However, with his team in a perilously compromised position, pants round ankles and assholes well lubed, even Pertwee hasn’t got the clench to hold off the inevitable penetration.
“I hope I give you the shits, you fucking wimp”.
Therein lays the beauty in this rugged beast for me as it performs its own pincer movement on our senses with military precision. Survival is the only available outcome and, with the increasingly uncharitable odds and the river not proving any kinder, it’s all in with a pair of fives. Much like he did later with The Descent, Marshall forgoes any unnecessary love interest distraction by opting largely for same-sex protagonists and, while his next project made for the more foreboding experience as it lowered its audience to subterranean levels, Dog Soldiers is no less impeding, just as ill-fated and, in the elongated lycanthrope battalion assemble by Marshall, is essentially all about survival instinct and team-play.
It’s hard to knock this particularly succulent gristly rump as it does precious little wrong. It’s unshaven and uncouth, with chest at full mast, fists blooded to the knuckle matter, nails backed up with grime and debris, and nose streaming with rivulets of warm clotted crimson. Dog Soldiers is as proud a beast as its fur-laden perpetrators and just as precarious. A testosterone-filled jamboree filled to the brim with strong dialogue, jet black humor, substantial tension and vigorous direction from Marshall. Moreover, it demonstrates that CGI isn’t the be-all and end-all, and that’s something well worth howling at the moon about.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: We are treated to oodles of gushing grue including wince-inducing impalement and all manner of messy chow downs but the crowning moment has to be watching the defiant Sarge attempting to scoop his giblets back into his gaping abdomen while a ravenous mutt attempts to drag off his large intestine or “sausages” as he hilariously refers to it. Meanwhile, the werewolves themselves more than look the part and their overbearing stance makes them a truly ominous opponent and constant threat to our fraying nerves. It is Marshall’s flat refusal to cut corners that deserves the largest pat on the back as, had they been CGI, I’m positive the effect would have been greatly lessened. Good work fella. Think I’ll skip on your sausages though. You got any bacon?
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
© Copyright: Rivers of Grue™ Shadow Spark Publishing™