Dog Soldiers (Neil Marshall, 2002)

The dissolve between reality and mythology in Dog Soldiers is more than just about the possibility that the supernatural exists. It exposes the little cracks in our personal realities and ideals; that most of us are just pawns with very little power over our situations. Dog Soldiers is one of many horror films of the previous decade that expresses the anxiety so may seem to feel towards the military (other notable examples, the Mist and 28 Days/Weeks Later). This film tackles, especially, our doubts  in the validity of our government’s military ambitions; that perhaps our systems of defence are not necessarily set up as a means of safety, but simply a cog in a larger complex motivated by greed. War ignores the individual, not only as much as the soldier becomes simply a mechanized part of a whole, but at the sake of our conception of humanity.  The film does portray the common soldier in a mostly positive light. In that sense, it takes on a very classical anti-war film stance like that of MASH or Paths of Glory, that champions the common soldier; men who are fighting either because they believe in something, or are unjustly caught up in a war they never signed up for.

I am not sure how successful this anti-war stance is, it certainly does not rank in the same level as my own favourite film, Catch-22 which explores similar ideas outside of the horror model, and I think that The Mist explores our military anxiety with a great deal more shock and skill… that being said, the film succeeds more than it fails. The film presents a huge amount of ideas, almost too many, and as a result it glosses over most of them without being able to properly express its stance on them. Then again, some of this apparent over-ambition strengthens the paranoia of the film. Tackling so much, creates a sense of chaos that mirrors so many mixed emotions so many feel about the military as well as the men (and women) who work and live within it.

In my review of The Howling, I expressed by doubts and even annoyance over transformation scenes…. and I have to say, this film pulls it’s off magnificently. I think it’s because, in terms of character development, the major transformation scene happens at a time where the character demonstrates a complete lack of humanity. Though he looks like a human, his morality is so skewed and motivated by self-serving notions, that he embodies a mechanized death-machine. His ambitions willingly sacrifice human life, with not even the possibility that it is for the greater good. It is purely for individual or corporate gain. At its worse, it is a search for a means to make soldiering more efficient in the same way yellow gas or atomic bombs makes fighting a war easier and more advantageous.

In addition to having what I see as a successful transformation scene, the film has probably my very favourite werewolf design of any film. It is not realistic in the least, and even looking at the monsters, I doubt they could move with the kind of speed and dexterity that they demonstrate in the film. That being said, their upright manner and ridiculously long limbs remind me of early expressionistic paintings… and even my own drawings. They look their best in profile or in low light, but I don’t have any objections for the unobscured shots. They are strangely alluring and beautiful, even feminine.

I think the film’s final strength is how the limited locations inspired feelings of confinement. It is a very traditional horror model that happens to reflect what we see as an escapable relationship between citizen and military. Both are not only linked, as (obviously) there is no military without citizens who are willing to participate, but also our reliance on them for protection and aid. It’s a co-dependency, but an extremely uneasy one. Actually, this makes me think of the final act in 28 Days Later so disturbing,  as you have military men in full on identity crisis; they not only have no populace to protect, but feel partially culpable for the social dissolve. They are caught between being the military man and the “real” man. In Dog Soldiers you have a different kind of unease, not only a fear of the possibility of becoming a monster (in the human or animalistic sense), but the fear of being out of control.

Though I am apparently not a werewolf fan, this is one of the few gems of the popular horror sub-genre. I’d even argue it’s stronger than Marshall’s more popular horror follow-up The Descent.

6 responses to “Dog Soldiers (Neil Marshall, 2002)

  1. I wish I liked this more nowadays. Loved it when it first came out.

    The scene where they see their comrade being eaten in the garage still freaks the fuck out of me.

  2. I like this film a lot, but I’m not sure if I love it. Most of the scenes of violence and carnage are extremely disturbing, even seeing the sarge’s guts all pouring out is extremely disgusting, while somehow being deeply rooted in a kind of real-ness.

    Spoon ❤

  3. I saw this at the cinema and thought it was OK, though I couldn’t understand why it had made it to cinemas. Seemed like the sort of film that would work better on the small screen.

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