DOG SOLDIERS takes place in the wilderness of Scotland, the creepy moors-like environment that American Werewolf in London used in a similar fashion. It tells the story of a group of Scottish soldiers on a training exercise; finding themselves dropped in the middle of nowhere to play a war game with the wankers from Special Forces. Everything seems all apples and pears until big beasties show up and start divorcing members of the platoon from their organs. They end up being rescued by a mysterious girl who steals them away to a cottage in the woods to hole up. How long can they stay alive with the hounds of hell circling outside?
Let me summarize by saying that this is not a good film. It is very, very low budget, but that is not what makes it bad; low budget films can really be special when the filmmakers understand how to compensate. The best compensation for lack of budget is to write a great script; followed closely by putting that script into the hands of a director with serious chops. Look at what Carpenter did with HALLOWEEN (although he actually wrote HALLOWEEN as well as directed it so we got the best of both worlds there). But the problem with DOG SOLDIERS is that the script is full of atrocious, fundamental snafus and the direction is amateurism at its worst.
This film is completely ruined by its script. It suffers from some other faults that are forgivable given the low budget nature of it. But the writing really kills the potential. It honestly has a decent concept, but that concept is totally wasted. Let me try to narrow down my list of examples as to the ineptitude of the script. Throughout the movie, there are moments where people are sitting around talking about absolutely nothing while there are supposedly big hairy wolfies outside that want to eat them. The dialogue is meandering and unfocused and amounts to a complete loss of a sense of what is at stake. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, people are yelling at each other and speaking the ends of violent confrontations that have no beginning or middle. I kept rewinding it to see if I had missed something but there was absolutely no build up to any critical piece of information.
Not convinced yet? Ok, how about the female character who saves them near the beginning? Apart from the fact that she is the driver of the truck that gets them to the cottage, she serves absolutely no purpose in regard to the story. She is utterly devoid of charm and uninteresting and contributes nothing to a plot that is already tripping all over itself. When the big reveal about her comes about, you aren’t surprised as much as you are totally confused as to why she was ever in this in the first place. Or how about the character named Spoon who is only called Spoon so his death can set up a Matrix joke…..screenwriting?!!!!
There is a complete lack of mood or atmosphere in DOG SOLDIERS. I got the impression that they were going to have a cool man-vs.-monster motif with the wilderness backdrop used for the added nightmare of isolation (a la THE THING). But since no one in the cabin seemed to give a crap that there were monsters outside and the wilderness is not used as a secondary character to enhance the terror, we are left with a bland, befuddling set piece with no reason to feel anything but boredom. This is not helped by the fact that the monsters look terrrrrrrible. They look like gangly dance company extras auditioning for the new Andrew Llyod Webber musical “DOGS”!
They don’t use any of their animalistic traits and instead rely on grappling and punching with their victims. Isn’t the scary thing about werewolves supposed to be that they are primal killing machines with the reasoning power of a human? Or even if you are of the opinion that they have no reasoning power in wolf form, shouldn’t that mean they are even more vicious? These goofy dancers in body-suits with Mardi Gras heads were actually the antithesis of frightening.
The performance from the main character, played by Kevin McKidd of the HBO series Rome, is respectable throughout. However certain elements of his character illustrate the most apparent script snafus in the film. The opening scene shows him failing a test he needs to pass to join Special Forces division. Why? Because he refuses to shoot a dog. The asshole Sgt. tries to make some facile “if you can’t shoot a dog, how can you shoot a man” argument but it could not be more forced; the guy is already in the regular military, so obviously he can shoot people when necessary so that line makes no fucking sense! But the big issue is what follows, when the word “dog” is uttered around 3.8×1057 times in a two minute interval. They go beyond establishing a character trait and start beating us over the head with foreshadowing. Guess what animal ends up coming to McKidd’s aide when he needs it most? Grrrrrrrrr.
Another quibble I have involves some of the lamest gore effects I’ve ever seen. No, they weren’t the worst I’ve ever seen, but the fact that we were actually supposed to take these scenes seriously elevated them to ultra lame status. Again, it would be forgivable given the low budget nature, but I’ve seen great gore effects on shoestring budgets; it can be done! There is actually a scene where a regular dog starts chomping on human remains which is so bad it’s comical and would have worked in that capacity, but it comes at one of the only tense moments in the whole film so they successfully ruin that one gleam of actual horror. The editing actually seems sentient of the terrible gore effects as it employs a series of jump cuts that hold no merit other than to conceal them.
Don’t waste your time on this lest you be counting down the minutes until credits roll. There are no interesting characters, no scary beasts, no atmosphere or tension, and instead a lot of terrible writing and bad gore effects. Pepper all that with palpable boredom and you’ve got DOG SOLDIERS. Bear in mind, with this only being review numero dos and with me so far running at 100% pan, I do actually love horror. It’s just that as of late, I have seen some stinkers. I’m hoping my next AYIF horror entry will be a winner, but that is the nature of this beast.