Out in time for Halloween, writer-director Neil Marshall’s tidily assembled, witty and cheerfully gory horror flick from 2002 gets a rerelease. And how nice it is to reacquaint ourselves not just with this low-budget/high-concept thriller, but with a simpler, gentler time when the only things we needed to be afraid of were jump scares, werewolves and the dark.
A cast comprised mostly of game but limited performers and a few familiar, considerably more competent, character actors who went on to have reasonable careers (such as leads Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd and de facto human villain Liam Cunningham) are compelled to scream, run and get covered in fake blood as they play British soldiers on manoeuvres in the Scottish Highlands. You can tell that McKidd’s Cooper is meant to be the film’s closest thing to a good guy because in the prologue he refuses to shoot a dog simply to prove that he will obey orders from Capt Ryan (Cunningham), during a tryout to join special forces.
Later, Cooper must help save Ryan when they find him wounded, the only survivor of an attack from lowlit monsters, werewolves who only in brief flashes look like background artists in furry suits. Poor Pertwee, meanwhile, as the representative of good military leadership, has to spend a lot of time with fake intestines flopping around his midriff. But it all comes together satisfyingly in the end,.
This was Marshall’s debut feature, and he shows off an innate knack for blending genre elements, especially horror tropes, with other stock features. You can easily draw a clear line through this to his later work, including the excellent all-female-cast horror-thriller The Descent, Roman-era war film Centurion, and assorted episodes of upmarket TV he later worked on, including a couple of crucial, action-intensive Game of Thrones episodes. Especially given how quickly effects look dated over time, Dog Soldiers has aged pretty well.
Dog Soldiers is available on digital platforms.