The American tradition of hard-boiled dialogue has been put through a strange mutation in British cinema and television. Whether in the criminal mean streets or out on the military fields, British tough guys spit out their sarcasm and anger in a peculiarly baroque way.
The men in Dog Soliders are a cynical, no-nonsense, hormonally driven bunch. Yet the one-liners they bark, as bullets fly and supernatural creatures smash though windows, tend to be introduced with flowery locutions like "I would rather say that ...". And when the going gets really tough, they plan their explosions with references to pop-cult items including Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point (1970)!
This low budget production, very successful on its home turf, is a decidedly odd mixture of amateur dramatics, camp humour and rousing, well-orchestrated moments of terror. Its plot does not amount to much: a team of soldiers board themselves up in a secluded country house and try to fend off werewolves of mysterious origin.
Inside the house, it is predictable roundelay of paranoid suspicion, brinkmanship and ghastly revelations, reminiscent at moments of John Carpenter's modern classic The Thing (1982). The ensemble cast, including Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd and Emma Cleasby as the token woman, look grim and determined at all times.
There is little sophistication in the concept here. It is not a political allegory of a country at war, and certainly reflects no awareness of feminist werewolf movies like the Canadian Ginger Snaps (2000).
Writer-director Neil Marshall wisely downplays the low-rent special effects in favour of a more old-fashioned form of constructing thrills and shocks. Dog Soldiers moves into high gear in its final act, once the characters start tearing apart the house and investigating every last, claustrophobic tunnel it contains. Cupboards, bedrooms, toilets: everything becomes grist for this apocalyptic mill.
Lacking ideas and interesting characters, at least Dog Soldiers can claim for itself the pleasure of some pure cinema, Hitchcock style.
© Adrian Martin March 2003