Dog Soldiers (2002)

Reviewed by Straxboy

Starring Sean (Soldier) Pertwee, Kevin (Hideous Kinky) McKidd, Liam (RKO 281) Cunningham

Directed by Neil Marshall

He’s like a virulent red warning beacon off a particularly jagged and storm ravaged coastline: Beware! Danger Lurks Within! Normally hanging like a decaying mollusc on the stinking underside of a movie baring the horrifying moniker “Paul Anderson”, the name Sean Pertwee is apt to induce more shakes and cold sweating than Robert Downey Jnr’s first night on C wing.

As Tommy in Shopping, Smith in Event Horizon, Bradley Cortese in Talos The Mummy and Mace in Soldier, the fourth Dr Who’s slack-jawed proto-lad son has done more harm to the film industry than Heidi Fleiss’ subpoena.

I didn’t go in hoping for a good time.

But like Tiffany showing up in Playboy, sometimes Satan’s works have a habit of justifying themselves just in time to avert an impending apocalypse.

The name of Producer Christopher Figg also eases the angst somewhat – though the end result of this Predator-meets-Southern Comfort mish-mash leaves the heady memories of Hellraiser a mere distant hope that will never be fulfilled in director Neil Marshall’s career span.

The film starts off limply – a piss poor editing job and sound resembling flatulence through heavy cloth -rendering a woefully shoddy, Scottish-set opening attack redundant: Friday 13th: Jason Lives did the “horny campers snuff it” routine so much better.

Cut to North Wales and Kevin McKidd getting a hard dose of military ethics training from dog-shooting campster, erstwhile warlock, and Girlcreeture posterboy Bruce Payne, reprising pretty much the same role he took in Full Eclipse – albeit British, hammy and with startlingly less hair. He shoots dogs = he’s bad. McKidd tells him to fuck off.

That’s the set up – on with the movie.

Cut to somewhere in rural England and Sean Pertwee as a gloriously potty-mouthed Task Force Sergeant is taking his 6 man squad – one of them the demoted McKidd – through a spot of war gaming. The helicopter drops them off only to rendezvous with them in two days time.

Unbeknownst to them, they are the unwitting pawns in a tag game with a much furrier foe. Bruce Payne is tracking the team under the guise of these laddish army larks while in reality ferreting out a ferocious beast, after some vague and unexplained army-boffin experiments have left lupine leftovers roaming the camp sites of England.

When the Pertwee Posse are dive bombed by the undercooked Chateau-Briande of slaughtered moo-moo in the dead of night, they know something’s up – even more so when they find the remains of Payne’s team spread over one acre of the forest and a babbling Payne – “there was only supposed to be one” – ripped to shreds amidst high tech tracking equipment. Then the wolf attacks. All low-budget-style camera’s eye toward screaming G.I., the editing certainly picks up at this point, overcoming the budgetary lack of fur and teeth providing a jolting 5 minutes of ragged stalk ‘n’ gnash, ending with a couple of dead soldiers and Pertwee’s guts round his ankles, where they stay for most of the duration of the film.

After McKidd tries valiantly (and for the audience, excruciatingly ineptly) to push the bloody string of sausages back into Pertwee’s midriff, they scrambble through the foliage and are picked up by lone wood-wanderer Megan in her jeep. Sniffing more than a hint of trouble, she whisks them through the mud and trees to a secluded house in the middle of nowhere where they can attend to both Payne and Pertwee.

Of course, this being the film it is (both horror genre and slightly overbaked) we realise that Megan can probably smell a mite more than a hint of trouble and the house is more coven than haven. Within ½ hour, all hell has broken loose, Payne and Pertwee have succumbed to the curse – not so much Ginger Snaps as Jaffa Cakes – and the audience patience has begun to be tested. The film, which had worked up a heady momentum of breakneck pace, profane strewn one liners and a garrulous smattering of gore, grinds to a halt as the remaining quintet take an aeon to take on board what the audience worked out in reel one. What started out as a larky, very British, cheese filled homage to genre-compadres over the pond, deteriorates rapidly as it fails to get over a merciless inflation of it’s sense of self worth, regretfully attempting po-faced pathos and uprooting itself from the knockabout garishness of the opening half’s overwrought excesses.

Two dull explosions, a vapid revelatory plot point and far…too…much…time
…waiting…around..for…the…plot and/or any character please…to…just…do…something…FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!!!!!!! means that any hope of a satisfactory pay off is nixed by a glib, sub Schwarzenegger-esque climax that provokes sighs and watch-gazing where one would wish for gasps and armrest-gripping.

A shame then because, as Long Time Dead so effortlessly proved, the home of Hammer has lost the plot as far as genre product goes. Long may the Shitish horror movie gag on it’s own vomit. Dog Soldiers though, is a step in the right direction. It’s no American Werewolf in London. It’s not even Wolfen. And it may not be exaxctly scary – something we luddites simply have to work at. But there’s a charm that won’t go unfeted by horror fans with a generous streak. The tone is mawkish and the drama is less than palpable. The pace however, is, for the most part, well maintained and it doesn’t lack the desire to go beyond the usual hum-drum thriller territory the most 21st century horror films find themselves mired in. Good marks for effort certainly.

And it’s got balls to be sure: super-gluing your cohort’s guts into his stomach may not cut in with Radar or Hot Lips but on this battle field, it makes for a riotous audience-killer of a scene, indicative of the project’s heart.

If Neil Marshall’s screenplay and lack of cohesion in directing and editing let him down as a talent to watch out for on the British horror scene, then at least he can add one fine feather into his cap…he finally found an acceptable outlet for the eye-rolling, facially-ticking cluster fuck of RSC-anal-discharge-cum-am-dram-thesp-fester that casting directors insist on mistaking for presence and vitality in young Master Pertwee. And that’s a challenge I suspect even John Landis could never hope to claim fame to…

2 1/2 out of 5

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