From literary granddaddy The Epic Of Gilgamesh (2000 BC) to `tec novel The Mark Of The Werewolf (2001), the myth of lycanthropy (ie human turns into wolf-like beastie) has long provided writers with plenty to chew on. Cinema's been munching at the feast since 1941's The Wolf Man, through Hammer oddities (The Curse Of The Werewolf), `80s travesties (Teen Wolf) and subtextual menstrual-pieces (Ginger Snaps). Why? Well, the Wolf's been feared since pre-Christian times, it's a symbol of untamed nature, and it's predatory instincts and apparent pleasure in killing are a potent allegory for humanity's dark side. Plus, of course, there's nothing quite so cathartic as a bloody good throat-ripping.
It's the latter prospect that fuels first-time writer-director Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers, which takes an astonishingly simple premise - - one that somehow eluded other writers for 4000 years - - and turns it into one of the most explosive, brutal and purely enjoyable horror debuts since The Evil Dead. Pitch: Werewolves versus Soldiers. Result: Bloody mayhem.
Yomping through the Scottish Highlands on a routine war games exercise, Sergeant Harry Wells (Sean Pertwee, over-egging the cockernee) and his men (including Kevin McKidd's born leader, Cooper, and Darren Morfitt's mad-fer-it private, Spoon) stumble upon the remains of a special ops unit. There're no bodies, only blood, and only one survivor - - Liam Cunningham's Machiavellian Captain Ryan. One furious, super-tense lycanthrope attack later and they're holed-up in a farmhouse with local zoologist Megan (Emma Cleasby), while a horde of rabid, fangy carnivores are inviting them for dinner in the garden.
Once inside, we're in familiar Rio Bravo/Night Of The Living Dead siege territory, and as the onus shifts to dialogue and explanation Dog... briefly loses momentum. The incredulity of the characters is implausible (after fighting for your life with a werewolf would you really spend 10 minutes questioning its existence?), their tolerance of Ryan bemusing, and Cleasby struggles with an exposition-heavy role. But as Trainspotting's McKidd comes to the fore, his charisma overcomes these quibbles and the frenetic action soon obliterates any extraneous thinking.
Marshall's own, tight editing provides only elliptical glimpses of Image Effects' excellent creatures, while the wince-inducing extreme violence is peppered with borderline slapstick comedy and knowing cinematic references (Zulu, The Matrix, tons of horror flicks). And, for all the laughs, Marshall's astute enough to know that humour, however black (and here it could eclipse the sun), works best alongside tragedy. Thanks to McKidd's likeable lead, the sergeant's longing for his wife, and the story's unforgiving drive, this is one mocky horror show where the makers' huff and puff is justified. It'll blow your house down.
From its grisly preface to its unrelenting, overcooked finale, Neil Marshall's very violent, very funny horror comedy bristles with fierce energy. Bloody, and bloody good.
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