Neil Marshall is one of those guys who I just find to be completely on my wavelength. I don’t know if I could go so far as to say that he’s like Rian Johnson in that he’s specifically making movies for me, but when I see something like the Cannibal free for all in Doomsday or any random fifteen minutes of The Descent, or the Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid Redux in Centurion, it’s tough for me to come to any other conclusion. What can I say, the man knows what I like and makes movies the way I like movies to be made.
Dog Soldiers is Marshall’s first film, and if it doesn’t quite hit my cinematic sweet spots with the eerie precision of Marshall’s other films, there is still much to enjoy and admire here, particularly for Marshall’s fans.
Dog Soldiers follows a group of British Soldiers sent on what they think is a training exercise in The Scottish Highlands. In reality they’re being used as bait so a group of Black Ops can suss out a werewolf. Unfortunately for the unlucky soldiers it turns out that they’re not hunting one werewolf, but a pack of them and unlike most of the civilized world the werewolves are more than happy to dine on British food.
The surviving soldiers make their way to an isolated farm house, where with the help of a friendly neighborhood zoologist they attempt to survive the werewolf siege.
Dog Soldiers is a good deal rougher than Marshall’s other films. Thanks to a late stage twist there’ a plot hole you could drive a plot through. The tone is a bit odd as well, though it’s nominally a horror comedy, Dog Soldiers plays it straight for the most part. As a result, when something goofy does come out of the woodwork it’s really distracting. Ther is a fisticuff’s versus werewolf scene that is just plain silly and the single most out of place Matrix reference I’ve ever seen. The effects are what they are, but at the very least get points for being practical. More problematic is that Marshall had yet to learn to ask himself, “Would these people be making puns at this juncture?”
But as I said there’s much to appreciate here. Including many of The Marshall trademarks, his innate skill at framing, likable characters, tense set pieces and his ability to make his beloved Scottish wilderness look like one of the most foreboding places on Earth (indeed the film loses much when it switches locations from the woods to the farmhouse). There are some nice touches throughout Dog Soldiers, including a well played fairy tale subtext. It’s the work of a naturally talented filmmaker making much out of limited means, and if it left room for improvement? Well that is how it should be.