Geeking Out About : Dog Soldiers (2002)

Dog Soldiers is rarely shown on cable and it’s not on Netflix. (It’s on Amazon but you have to pay for it.) Ironically enough, you can watch it on Youtube for free. Go figure!

This is one of the few, (well-made), occult military movies out there. There are other movies, in the same vein, but I think I can say, with a certain amount of confidence, that when measured against Dog Soldiers, they all suck and I am unanimous in this belief.

I love werewolf movies but this movie isn’t so much about werewolves as it is the soldiers. Its a siege film, where you basically have “ten little indians in the woods”. Instead of a final girl, you get a final guy.

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You are alerted to just what type of film you will be dealing and with and what type of werewolves, right at the opening of the film, when we watch a couple of campers get eaten. I liked this couple, in just the handful of minutes they were introduced, and mistakenly thought they’d play a larger role in the movie. The two of them are dispatched with little ceremony. One of the most chilling moments is watching as one of the werewolves slowly unzips their tent, while it is quite obvious to them, what they’re hearing outside of it, is a dog. The film begins as it means to go on. Characters you think are going to be heroic or play larger roles, die, and the werewolves keep engaging in disturbingly human activities.

Next, there’s a dog that’s killed, purely to showcase the villainy of the villain, Captain Ryan. I dislike animals coming to harm in movies, and I usually skip this scene.The movie also sets up our hero, Private Cooper, who when given the order to kill the dog, by Captain Ryan, refuses. This is to let us know what a fine upstanding man he is compared to Captain Ryan. So basically, the dog is sacrificed to outline what type of characters we’re dealing with and even though the movie is full of gore, I have a hard time watching that particular scene.

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Captain Ryan, because he’s got a major hard-on for Cooper, chooses Cooper’s squad to bait the werewolves, on the pretense that they are just having training exercises, (in the same woods, where the couple had been killed.) To that end, they are all given fake ammunition, while unbeknownst to them, the other training group, led by Captain Ryan, is given live ammunition.

They soon have to trade up for the real stuff,  when they come across the dismembered bodies of the other soldiers, and an injured Captain Ryan. The soldiers were so overwhelmed by the attack, they never even got a chance to fire any of their weapons.

And its extremely fortunate that they find all this dead, but heavily armed, meat because not long afterward, Cooper’s squad is attacked, as well. About half the members are killed and Sgt. Wells, played by one of my favorite actors, Sean Pertwee, (now playing Alfred on Gotham), is injured and infected.The rest of them are rescued by a young journalist, named Megan, who takes them to a seemingly abandoned farmhouse. (Before the movie is over, ask yourself why the house is empty.)

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There proceeds a long siege encounter with the werewolves, which look more wolf-man than wolf,(they are about 7 to 8 feet tall and very powerful looking creatures), attacking the house and trying to get inside, with the soldiers repelling the monsters and trying to come up with tactics to get out of the woods.

The werewolves are not mindless animals. They are sort of like people, and reasonably intelligent and come up with counter-tactics of their own against the soldiers. We’re not given any particular psychology about them. But they do have a very specific reason for wanting to get back in the house (and I believe this is Megan’s fault.) What they think or feel, beyond that, is  unimportant and the creators of the film are not interested in making them sympathetic creatures. Once the film is over you may understand their motives, but they are monsters, pure and simple. Think of this movie as a recreation of one of the best scenes in Aliens.

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While all of this is going on, the unit  gets info-dumped by Megan, who has a surprise of her own, and they try to glean information from an uncooperative Captain Ryan, who is also infected and becomes a werewolf, that they then have some trouble putting down. Its a great scene, all done with practical effects.

But the real draw of this movie, is the companionship of the soldiers. If you listen to the DVD commentary, the actors discuss how they got into their various roles, and what it was like pretending to be British soldiers, for the weeks prior to the shooting of the film. And their hard work pays off on screen. The film is very effective in getting you to like these characters, in just the first twenty minutes, before the shit goes down. They all have great chemistry together. You can tell that these men are friends, who have served together for a very long time, so unlike a lot of movies, where one roots for the monsters because the victims are so unlikable, its heartbreaking to watch these guys get killed. The music during their death scenes, really help to sell the tragedy of it. And while their deaths are very brutal, they do give as well as they get. They are, all of them,  every bit as bad as they think they are.

Most especially Sgt. Wells. The most enjoyable character, he gets some of the best lines, while  doing nothing more than writhing around on a bed, in excruciating pain.This is how good an actor Pertwee is. He and Private Cooper have great chemistry together. It becomes obvious that the two care deeply for each other, from long acquaintance, and that Cooper thinks of Wells as a father figure.

One of the reasons there are no good, frightening, monster movies about vampires and werewolves being made today is that filmmakers are too caught up in the idea of making the monsters sympathetic or likable. I don’t mind such movies, as they have their place, but movies like that are also not scary.

There’s only one woman in the film, but general male dickishness is kept to a minimum, and after a couple of awkward moments, Megan is treated with, more or less, the same level of respect as the other soldiers. After all, she did save their lives. It would have been very easy to make the character bitchy or a damsel, or for her to act like she was in a different movie, but the writers manage to avoid doing that. She’s no one’s love interest. She’s sassy and doesn’t allow herself to be bullied by any of the men in the film. At no point does she come across as helpless, the soldiers begin to accept her a s a member of their team, and this is why her betrayal of them, later in the movie, evokes a feeling of sadness, rather than anger.There’s a sad backstory in there, that makes it difficult to hate her.

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The special effects are occasionally dodgy, (the werewolves look like men in suits, and of course they are, but that’s not a huge concern) but  are never cheap and there’s no CGI. If there was, it was invisible, the way it’s meant to be.There’s also  plenty of gore and shooting.

The current spate of  werewolf movies: Battledogs, Skinwalkers, Wolves, aren’t in the same league as this movie and suffer from a lot of the problems that this movie manages to deftly avoid.

You could do far worse than spending an evening watching Sean Pertwee cussing and  shooting at giant werewolves.

7 thoughts on “Geeking Out About : Dog Soldiers (2002)

  1. Pingback: Favorite Movies of My Life Pt. 4 (2001-2010) – Geeking Out about It

    1. My head cannon, is that the werewolves want get back in the house because 1) it’s their house, and 2) Megan is in there. They all look male so if she’s their little sister or something, they’d want to get in and kill the soldiers they think are holding her.

      Although this idea is slightly mitigated by the fact that they would’ve killed the soldiers even if Megan had never showed up.

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