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Dog Soldiers DVD

They're a platoon under assault by werewolves—and they're not going down without a fight

*Dog Soldiers
*Starring Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd and Emma Cleasby
*Written and directed by Neil Marshall
*Fox Home Video
*105 min.
*MSRP: $19.98 DVD

By Adam-Troy Castro

D uring a training exercise in Wales, Pvt. Cooper (McKidd) almost qualifies for a Special Forces Squad under the command of the cold and brutal Capt. Ryan (Liam Cunningham). He fails, not because of inadequate skill, but because he refuses Ryan's command to shoot a dog. Cooper just doesn't have the level of ruthlessness Ryan requires from his men.

Our Pick: A-

Returning to his own platoon, and its more congenial bunch of blokes, Cooper is soon assigned to a new training exercise in the Scottish woods. Under the command of their leader, the gruff but decent Sgt. Wells (Pertwee), the platoon is to cross this territory without being found or captured by their opponents on the other side.

When they encounter the other team, near nightfall, it's been literally torn to pieces by unknown enemies. The only survivor is a grievously wounded and terrified Ryan, who can only babble, "There was only supposed to be one!" Before long, they are all under attack by an unknown animalistic enemy.

Switching to live ammo, firing blind at unkillable pursuers, dragging their wounded, they barely make it to a road, where they are picked up by a civilian motorist named Megan (Cleasby). This hardly qualifies as a rescue, however, since they soon find themselves barricaded inside an isolated farmhouse, with limited ammunition, as inhuman creatures attack from every direction at once. And not all their enemies are outside: they have to watch out for the cold, contemptuous Ryan, who constantly taunts that he knows more about their terrible predicament than he's bothering to tell.

A werewolf flick with conviction

Filmed in Luxembourg by filmmakers from Arkansas, Dog Soldiers features British soldiers under assault by werewolves while on an exercise in Scotland. Nobody will ever accuse it of classic status. It's basically yet another exercise in the hoary formula of terrified people barricaded inside a small enclosed space while carnivorous monsters strive to break in and chow down. Some of its twists are nothing of the kind—even the producers, on the commentary track, admit that the secret agenda of at least one key player is obvious to anybody who's ever seen a film of this kind before.

What makes the film work, what makes it in fact one of the best films of its kind that this sometimes tired genre has seen in years, is the conviction of its performances, the immediacy of its staging, and the sheer cleverness of its choreography. This is a B film put together with a craft that eludes most A films.

Forgive the opening sequence of lovers on a camping trip who get slaughtered in their tent. It's not bad, but it is ordinary, the kind of thing included by insecure filmmakers who fear audiences won't stick around long enough to catch the good stuff. The scene is unnecessary since, aside from that, the good stuff starts almost right away, with Cooper's introduction to the hateful Ryan of Special Forces, and our own introduction to Cooper's regular squad. In their chatty and entertaining commentary track, the producers describe the concept of this film as not a werewolf film with soldiers, but a soldier film with werewolves, and in this they're absolutely right.

The blokes are introduced to us with the same degree of persuasive characterization that sets up the platoons in more conventional war films. We don't get to know these guys very well (and some viewers may have trouble with the heavy accents and dense lower-class Brit slang), but we do get to believe in them, and we join them in the trenches when all hell breaks loose. The tone is closer to Platoon that it is to Aliens. It helps that the action is intense and inventive and that the characters are tough enough to be worth rooting for. During the film's best sequence, when the trapped, unarmed and unfortunately named Pvt. Spoon (Darren Morfitt) finds himself trapped in a kitchen with nothing but his bare fists and an indestructible snarling lycanthrope twice his size, it's almost a fair fight.

The DVD comes complete with domestic and international trailers, a making-of featurette and the producer's commentary track, all of which add to the overall experience. This one is a keeper.

One of the few winks at the audience is a Matrix joke, and unlike most of the gratuitous Matrix jokes that have polluted movies in the past few years, it's actually funny. Watch for it in the last 20 minutes. — Adam-Troy

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Also in this issue: Farscape Season One DVD Box Set and Sabretooth


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