’s review of Dog Soldiers:
The term “cult classic” gets thrown around more often than Chaz Bono’s sexual identity. Most recently, dwellers from many online communities were tripping over themselves to slap that label on Jason Eisener’s Hobo With A Shotgun… or on anything with a faux grindhouse feel, really. Personally, I have a problem with defining such projects as “cult” when their creators have obviously gone out of their way to make pulpy, gory, purposely B-movie-like flicks. Cult status happens regardless of your intentions, it’s not something you can force. When Sam Raimi and Co. ventured to an abandoned cabin in the woods, they had no idea they were making something that would stand the test of time and be enjoyed, not to mention quoted, for generations to come.
Which brings us to the obvious question: what features define a cult movie? Is it when a movie surpasses the limitations of its budget, or, more often, the lack thereof? (Evil Dead) Is it the campy, self-aware nature of the script? (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) Or is it the sheer, balls out, throw everything at the wall and see what sticks attitude of the movie makers? (Pretty much any Troma movie you care to name, foremost being the eternal Toxic Avenger.)
Whatever the answer might be, it’s an indisputable fact that Neil Marshall’s (The Descent, Centurion) 2002 movie Dog Soldiers is a project that straddles the fine line between instant cult classic and self-aware pretender. Replete with one-liners, references to other popular movies and a darker-than-dark-yet-strangely-humorous tone, Dog Soldiers is a strange beast. Funny, serious, silly, well-acted, and completely overacted, sometimes by the same actor in the same scene, it’s certainly a movie that deserves to be revisited.
Dog Soldiers focuses on an S.A.S squad undergoing routine training operations in the Scottish Highlands when, out of nowhere, werewolves attack. The Special Air Service boys retaliate by barricading themselves inside a two-story house in the middle of nowhere and by being terribly, terribly British. If by being quite British you mean showering the hairy buggers with hot lead whenever they try to breach the house’s defenses and, in one particularly funny case, hammering the hell out of their paws when they try to grab someone through the main door’s mail slot.
The soldiers are played by mostly unknown actors, though squad leader Wells is played by genre vet Sean Pertwee ( Equilibrium, Marshall’s Own Doomsday) and our point-of-view character is played by Kevin McKidd of HBO’s Rome fame, lately relegated to a tour of duty on Grey’s Anatomy, a show that would be considerably improved by the sudden intrusion of a pack of werewolves.
Recognizable or not, the cast is uniformly good if a bit screechy. When things go to hell, it’s a challenge to understand the dialog, which is buried under so many differently yelled accents and brogues that the cast might as well have been speaking Klingon with a southern accent while heavily intoxicated and post debilitating stroke.
McKidd has a sympathetic persona and it’s easy to root for his survival, especially after a traumatic opening moment that I won’t spoil. Pertwee is his usual commanding presence. What’s interesting about Dog Soldiers is that nobody in the cast goes out like a punk, these are trained soldiers, the toughest in the world, and they act like it. Contrary to mostmovies, nobody in the cast volunteers to become werewolf Kibbles-N-Bits by virtue of their innate uselessness. Each soldier in the unit goes out fighting with that uniquely British, defiant, never-say-die attitude. One sequence finds a hapless trooper flinging about 50 pieces of silverware at an approaching wolf, one after the other, even though it’s painfully obvious he’s not doing the creature any sort of damage. And when that fails, the stubborn S.O.B puts up his dukes and goes hand-to-hand with the monster because, at that point, what have you got to lose?
Oh shit! Hey, guys! This dude’s hitting me! What do I do?
Credit to where credit is due, Dog Soldiers is a one fine looking movie, which utilizes its limited sets effectively and makes great use of shadows and minimal lighting. The wolves themselves are superb, a combination of animatronics and stuntmen on stilts, giving the creatures considerable size and an almost otherworldly feel to their walk.
Neil Marshall is athat has always managed to surpass the limitations of his budget, managing to make horror, Roman warfare or post-apocalyptic movies on budgets that would get him laughed out of Michael Bay’s trailer. Genre fans should be appreciative of the fact that Marshall, almost 10 years after making Dog Soldiers, still seems perfectly happy to make solid, entertaining, gorgeously shot, small-budget movies instead of selling out to the Hollywood teat. He’s supported here by a smart script, which mixes pop-culture references to The Matrix and Star Trek with genuine human pathos. Plus, one of the characters is named Bruce Campbell, how can you not love that?
The Verdict: [rating:4.5]
I wholeheartedly recommend that you check out Dog Soldiers if you haven’t already. It has all of the elements of a cult classic, but only the test of time will truly tell if this is a movie that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the giants of the genre. In the meantime, enjoy one of the greatest werewolf movies in decades.
Your faithful reviewer,
Dog Soldiers Trailer
- Yell! Rating (x/5 Skulls):
- Year Released:
- 10 May 2002
- Neil Marshall
- Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Liam Cunningham, Thomas Lockyer, Darren Morfitt, Chris Robson, Leslie Simpson, Craig Conway, and Emma Cleasby
- Horror, Monster, Action
- Official URL: