Dog Soldiers review: A rip-roaring, action-packed horror
Ivan Radford | On 21, Apr 2021
Director: Neil Marshall
Cast: Sean Pertwee, Liam Cunningham, Kevin McKidd
Where to watch Dog Soldiers online in the UK: All 4 / BritBox UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play / Sky Store
The name Neil Marshall likely brings to mind two of Game of Thrones’ most extravagant and spectacle-packed episodes. But 10 years before the battle of Blackwater, the British filmmaker was helming a battle of a very different kin in the Scottish Highlands – a rag-tag, low-budget scrap between a group of soldiers and a pack of werewolves. Almost 20 years later, it still stands up as a thrilling directorial debut.
The film begins in traditional genre fashion, with two unsuspecting campers gruesomely dispatched by an unseen beast, but Marshall’s skill lies in balancing horror with action, and he spends the rest of the film’s runtime embedding us in a military squad that immediately convinces in its strength of camaraderie. Much like 2005’s The Descent, it’s as much a tale of friendship and survival as it is a creature feature.
Our hero is Cooper (Kevin McKidd), a private who tries out for the special forces but doesn’t get along with their fierce commanding officer, Captain Ryan (a scene-stealing Liam Cunningham). But Cooper and his unit cross paths with Ryan shortly after, as they troop through Scotland’s forests (actually filmed in Luxembourg) and find themselves hunted by some furrier-than-usual enemies. Cut off from the world – much to the annoyance of the football-loving Private Joe Kirkley (Chris Robson), who wants to be watching the England v Germany match – they have to retreat to a farmhouse, where local zoologist Megan (Emma Cleasby) helps prepare for a particularly hairy siege.
The group is led with gruff humour by Sean Pertwee as Sergeant Wells, who gets a welcome opportunity to bring some poignant moments that balance out his tough-loving charisma, while Darren Morfitt as Private Spoon and Leslie Simpson as Private Terry help the script serve up laughs as well as the grisly gore. (The screenplay was once in the hands of Simon Pegg and Jason Statham, although both departed for other projects.) McKidd, meanwhile, shines as the likeable Cooper who backs up his moral mettle with a resilient determination.
Marshall’s knack for capturing group dynamics while still finding the time to spray the red stuff everywhere makes him one of the most exciting UK directors around, and this stripped-back chamber piece sees him at his most purely entertaining. He marshals practical effects with just the right blend of physical presence and genre camp, exploding miniatures with aplomb while never missing the chance to go big on movie homages – one character is called “Bruce Campbell”, while everything from Aliens to Night of the Living Dead can be glimpsed between the fast-paced set pieces. The result is a breathtakingly fun B-movie with a bark that’s as memorable as its bite – just when you think it’s all over, it still manages to pull off one of the unlikeliest nods to The Matrix you’ll ever see.
Dog Soldiers is available on All 4 until 24th September 2021. It is also available on BritBox, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.