I was probably 11 years old when my dad and I sat down to watch Dog Soldiers for the first time, and it’s a movie that for whatever reason has remained deep in my memory all these years later. It wasn’t until this past April, when (like many Americans) I suddenly found myself with a lot of extra free time and wanting to watch movies that reminded me of the good ol’ days.
I think the reason Dog Soldiers has stuck with me all these years is because it’s a movie less about werewolves and their mythology, and more about soldiers trying to survive being hunted by an unknown monster. Sure, the movie suffers from some pacing issues when it introduces different character’s backstories, but that’s easy to look beyond thanks to the film’s chemistry and camaraderie between the main characters.
When it comes to the werewolves themselves, they’re quite bruiting with their practical effects. Despite their enormous size, they are less “monstrous” than they are wolf-like and quite honestly it’s what I love about their design. The film does not show any transformations from human to wolf and instead cuts to a character’s reaction when the transformation starts. I really like this because I am very critical of werewolf transformation scenes in movies and I seldom think they pull off the effects.
Although the cut scenes during the transformations is great, that does not mean all the cuts scenes are golden. There is a scene in the film where the soldiers are talking about soccer (I think?) and it has like 4 or 5 cuts per second – something that should not have made it into the movie. These kinds of scenes work in fast-paced action sequences when done well, but when you’re trying to make a dialogue scene look like an action scene, it fails to land. It’s a bit too much especially when there is a tense one-of-us-must-survive- scene near the end of the movie that’s steadily and calmly cut.
That’s really my only gripe with the film. I’d say that’s a pretty fair pros to cons ratio if you ask me. To go back to my previous statement about the film being less about werewolves and more about soldiers surviving being hunted, Neil Marshall did something similar with his sophomore film, The Descent. A pretty good film that I think would have actually been scarier had we’d never actually seen the monsters appear. This probably would not have worked for Dog Soldiers, but it’s worth noting how Marshall improved on his approach to filmmaking especially when his debut film was awfully good in the first place. Now, if only he hadn’t made that 2019 film called Hellboy.