Warning - big fat spoilers!
Directed and written by Neil Marshall, whose only previous film was Killing Time ("Life is a bitch and her name is Maria..."), Dog Soldiers' tag line is "Six Soldiers. Full Moon. No chance." This line pretty much sums up the plot, which is very simple and formulaic: a group of six soldiers on a "routine training exercise" (the fools! They should have run a mile when they heard those words) in the countryside run into unexpected trouble when the Special Forces position that they are trying to infiltrate turns out to have been torn apart by mysterious beasts.
The beasts don't stay mysterious for very long. Anyone going to see the film knows it's about werewolves from the poster, and it only takes about half an hour for the soldiers to make it to the isolated old house where they will spend the rest of the film trying to keep them out. The werewolves are strong and smart and fast. The soldiers have limited ammunition, their sergeant is badly wounded and the Special Forces guy they found half-alive in the woods is starting to act very strangely - also, he just happens to be a real bastard who refused Cooper entry to Special Forces because he refused to kill a dog. There's an attractive girl too, but what was she doing driving alone through the woods so far away from civilisation? And how the hell do you kill something that isn't affected by any of the weapons you have?
So far it seems like Dog Soldiers is not worth seeing. However, precisely because the story and the genre are so well-defined and familiar, the director doesn't even bother trying to change them. Instead the focus is on choppy, nerve-wracking camerawork, psychological suspense (the beasties are not seen clearly until the very end, just like in Alien) and at least three one-liners every ten minutes. There's a brave leader-type (Cooper), a gung-ho adrenaline junkie (Spoon), and a clown (Terry), and each of the characters is portrayed realistically, while never taking their life-and-death situation absolutely seriously. Each character, facing death in the jaws of an eight-foot werewolf, manages to come out with lines such as:
"They think it's all over - it is now!",
"Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough!", or
"I hope I give you the shits, you fucking wimp!"
Dog soldiers is shot on a very low budget, and demonstrates that with imaginative camerawork and good acting it's possible to create more terror and suspense in an audience than all the millions you could have spent on special effects and celebrity faces. Most of the actors have British regional accents, which may mean that it doesn't have as much of a chance of hitting the USA bigtime, which it deserves to do - this film is the twisted lovechild of The Blair Witch Project and Assault on Precinct 13, and had me jumping and cringing several times. What it lacks in plot and story (if the werewolves are so smart, why don't they drive the jeep into the front door of the house? And how come they can run at forty miles per hour unless they're chasing one of the soldiers, in which case they slow right down so he can make it to safety?) it more than makes up for in nerve and shock (the scene where a big, bloody highlands cow falls into the campfire out of nowhere made me scream, and watch out for a scene involving a dog and a few feet of small intestine still attached to their owner..."sausages!"...) *
The ending has our hero (well, from the very beginning you knew there was only going to be one survivor) standing, stunned, in the smoking ruins of the cottage they've been defending all night, which would itself be a fitting ending, except that it's followed up with a wonderful touch of humour. Throughout the story one of the soldiers has been moaning about missing the England-Germany football game, and the final scene is a still of a tabloid newspaper. In huge, bold lettering is the headline "ENGLAND 5 GERMANY 1", and off to the side a grimacing photo of Cooper, the survivor, with the headline "Werewolves ate my platoon!".
* - Lucy-S
says, (about the "few feet of small intestine"): I'm pretty sure it was a bloody bandage, since I watched the DVD last night on a very large TV. Looked like the bandage to me.