SR Picks: Dog Soldiers

This is the first post in a new column here at Screen Rant: SR Picks. SR Picks will highlight older films that you may not have heard of or you've never bothered to watch, but are worth checking out. Enjoy!

"You're right behind me, aren't you?"

Dog Soldiers was released in the UK in 2002 and never made it to a release in the United States. I don't know why, but we all missed out due to that decision in this short lived, one-time franchise. (I say franchise because I can hope, can't I?)

If you like werewolf movies and you like quality werewolf movies, boy do I have a treat in store for you.

Dog Soldiers sort of has three beginnings, but one definitive ending. Oh where do I start?

It's the classic movie start: We see a couple camping out in the woods. It's night time and they hear something outside the tent. We are then treated to the tent zipper being pulled ever so slowly down. Out the opening the screaming girl goes, followed by the blood spattered boyfriend. Their names are irrelevant at this point! There's somethin' in the woods folks.

We then switch to a special ops training test to establish a few characters. Trainee Private Cooper (Played by Journeyman star Kevin McKidd) is finishing up a special forces test. The man in charge, a cold war-hardened soldier, Capt. Ryan, (Liam Cunningham) in his own, special ops sort of way, congratulates Cooper on not being caught so quickly, but as one last test, orders the soldier to shoot the dog they used to track him down with. Cooper refuses the order on grounds it is not necessary to shoot THAT dog. In making a point Capt. Ryan caps the dog without an ounce of emotion. Needless to say, Pvt. Cooper is booted from the unit and his animosity is initiated with the cold blooded Ryan.

We jump ahead to the present. A squad of British soldiers are on a training simulation in the Scottish forest.

The squad consists of our now familiar Cooper, (Kevin McKidd, who has also been in Trainspotting), Terry (played by Leslie Simpson), Joe (Chris Robson), Bruce (Thomas Lockyer), Spoon (Darren Morfitt) and Sergeant Wells (Sean Pertwee).

The ever boring routine of training changes instantly as they come across the gutted remains (lots of sausages used for intestines!) of another squad. The trauma of the situation becomes clear when they find this squad was a well armed special ops squad and they were still all killed. The radio equipment is destroyed and there is but one survivor. A completely shocked and terrified Capt. Ryan, (Yea, from earlier) who is saying over and over again there was only supposed to be one.

And the fun for us, the audience, begins. If you can call not breathing fun.

In what I think is the only true way to present the nemesis, we don't see them for the first 30 minutes, maybe more (Sorry, I get really sucked in every time I watch this flick), we only see hints of something. A furtive glimpse of something here, a clawed hand there, a quick disembowelment - We never see the monsters ("There was only supposed to be one") until later on at night.

The soldiers do what they do best. They stay focused on who they are and what they need to do. They convert their weapons back to live firing munitions and hole up in a cottage defending against these beasts through the night.

The night is long, hard and comes with one surprise after another. In the end it even gets down to one of the soldiers trying to duke it out with one of these 8-foot tall monsters in a grand fashion that only a true soldier could muster. Operative word, TRY as he takes the motto "Don't go down without a fight" right to the end. For a second I thought that large iron skillet he grabbed was going to work!

In one description of the pack, a neighbor says something to the effect of: "They're really good people except for once a month." I am not sure they meant for that to be funny because I am too busy digging my nails into the couch.

In my mind, this is one of the best low budget movies I've ever seen and furthers it's own genre. It's superbly written to showcase the desperate men doing the only thing they can, fight and survive for as long as possible, hopefully surviving until daybreak and you can feel it.

The monsters are portrayed in a mix of shadows, outlines, steaming bodies at the edge of the light. In what I think is the perfect presentation, after being teased for a while, we get to see them full on in the light and these beasts awesome for all their simplicity. (No CGI!)

For me, a classic scene is when one of the squad risks his life to get to a jeep and drive it back to the house. As he parks the jeep and turns off the motor, we're looking at him from the right seat and we see the steam of an exhale from the back. He never looks back. He just says: "You're right behind me, aren't you?". His answer is a second exhale of steam. He turns to meet his end valiantly.

This flick truly reminded me of Night of the Living Dead, the monsters were just a bit faster in this one. A sense of overwhelming despair that overlays a small glimmer of hope that they will make it to daybreak.

Dog Soldiers is produced by Christopher Figg (Clive Barker's Hellraiser, Trainspotting) and written, directed and edited by Neil Marshall (Killing Time) and amazingly, this was his directorial debut.

The film won multiple awards overseas: The Golden Raven Award and the Pegasus Audience Award at the 2002 Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film and the Grand Prize of European Fantasy Film at the Luxembourg International Film Festival/Cinenygma. Neither of these merits are easy to come by.

I've seen rumor of a sequel, but I hope that doesn't happen because I fear they will only ruin the franchise unless they get it done with the right people, the right attitude and the right approach.


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