Dog Soldiers


Dog Soldiers

Never wolf down your food.

(2002) Horror (Artisan) Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham, Thomas Lockyer, Darren Morfitt, Chris Robson, Leslie Simpson, Tina Landini, Craig Conway, Bryn Walters, Brian Claxton Payne, Ben Wright. Directed by Neil Marshall

 

If you were in the woods far away from civilization, where would the safest place to be? You would think among a troop of soldiers on training exercises. There are some things though an entire army wouldn’t even be able to protect you from.

Private Cooper (McKidd) looks to join the elite SAS unit and looks to have the skills to do it. However when he is ordered to kill a dog, he refuses. The commanding officer, Captain Ryan (Cunningham) shoots the dog himself and sends Cooper back to his unit.

A month later, Cooper’s squad, commanded by Sgt. Wells (Pertwee), is dropped into the Scottish highlands for training exercises. They’re supposed to attack a squad of SAS commandos but when they reach their encampment, the place has been torn to shreds. There are no bodies but plenty of bodies and bits of flesh and organ strew about. It looks like the scene of a massacre. There is just one survivor – Captain Ryan, who is grievously wounded and keeps muttering “there was only supposed to be one.”

Right about then the soldiers are attacked by unknown assailants. Corporal Bruce Campbell (Lockyer) is impaled on a tree branch and the rest of the squad make their way to an abandoned farmhouse with the help of a zoologist they encounter on the road, Maggie (Cleasby). They hole up there, thinking if they can hold out until morning the werewolves will revert to human form and they’d be safe.

Soon it appears that won’t be happening. One of the soldiers, Private Terry Milburn (Simpson) is abducted and their ammo is running low. It becomes obvious that they will need to find a way to escape before dawn or they just won’t survive.

Marshall has crafted an old-school kind of werewolf movie that eschews CGI for practical effects and with a script clever in its references to all sorts of movies, from Zulu to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to Night of the Living Dead. That sounds like a bit of a mishmash (and it is in a way) but it actually works really well. The movie has a clever sense of humor that is going to appeal to not just the fanboy but the casual horror fan as well.

Marshall apparently has a pretty good sense of how military units operate – he’s gotten praise for getting that aspect right. He also has a good sense of how soldiers talk – not like clich√© machines but with a wide swagger, a hefty dose of macho but also a sense of precision. Military units thrive on precise communications; they would be pretty unsuccessful if they weren’t efficient that way.

The movie was produced on the cheap; in that sense from time to time the lack of a budget shows through although for the most part the movie looks more expensive than it was. The cast is solid and talented (although Jason Statham was offered a part in the movie he had to decline to commitments to other films) and gets the military jargon down, not to mention the swagger. There are a few twists and turns (although you should be able to guess what the “mission” of the SAS really was, what the significance of the farmhouse is and what the secret of the werewolf clan is) and even better, plenty of visceral thrills to deliver the discerning horror film fan to hog heaven.

The movie failed to get theatrical distribution in the United States as distributors labeled it as “too British” which just goes to show you how stupid distributors can be (just check the box office receipts for Shaun of the Dead if you don’t believe me). It was initially shown on the SyFy Channel (and it still turns up on cable regularly) before getting a home video release, including a bare-bones Blu-Ray release a couple of years ago. That’s a shame; I think someday this will be recognized as a classic in the genre and given the respect and treatment it deserves. Until then, it can be our little hidden gem.

WHY RENT THIS: One of the best werewolf films of recent years. Practical-effect werewolves rock. Reminiscent of Evil Dead and An American Werewolf in London in tone. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Cheap production values sometimes show through.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of violence, lots of gore and lots of bad words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although the movie is set in Scotland it was actually filmed in Luxembourg.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.5M on an unreported production budget; my guess is that the movie was slightly profitable.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: The Ledge

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Killer Elite


Killer Elite

A couple of dusty badasses.

(2011) Action Thriller (Open Road) Jason Statham, Clive Owen, Robert De Niro, Yvonne Strahovski, Dominic Purcell, Aden Young, Ben Mendelsohn, Lachy Hulme, Firass Dirani, Grant Bowler, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Rodney Afif, Michael Dorman. Directed by Gary McKendry

Revenge is a dish best served cold, or so it is said. There is also a saying that if you seek revenge, you’re also seeking your own death.

Danny Bryce (Statham) is a member of the British Special Air Services (SAS), one of the elite forces of counter-espionage in the world, right up there with the Israeli MOSSAD and the U.S. Army Rangers/Navy Seals. He works on a team with his mentor Hunter (De Niro) and general fixer Davies (Purcell). While on assignment in Mexico, Danny inadvertently kills his target in front of his young son. Disgusted by his own actions, he decides to quit the game.

Some years later, Danny – now living in Australia and romancing local farmer Anne (Strahovski) gets a letter essentially informing him that Hunter has been captured and airline tickets are sent. Danny is met in some Godforsaken Middle Eastern country by Agent (Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a travel agent and middleman for mercenaries.

It turns out that Hunter had taken a job for Sheikh Amr (Afif) who at one time had ruled Oman. He had been deposed, mostly due to the efforts of the British SAS who had also been responsible for the death of three of his sons. Now that the Sheikh is dying, he wants those responsible to be brought to justice (i.e. killed) and their confessions taped. Oh, and their deaths must look like accidents. If Danny fails to do this or the Sheikh dies before all three men are killed, the Sheikh’s remaining son (Dirani) will execute Hunter.

Throwing a monkey wrench into the proceedings is another former SAS agent, Spike Logan (Owen) who works at the behest of a secret society of other former SAS agents known as the Feathermen, because as one dryly informs him, their touch is as light as a feather, meaning they kill subtly and without announcing their presence. All three of the targets are members and when Harris (Hulme), the first name on the list is killed, a war is literally underway between Danny and his team (which includes Davies) and Logan and the Feathermen – with political ramifications that neither Logan and Danny have any clue about.

This is reportedly based on a true story; the producers say that both in the advertising for the movie and in the movie itself. This should be taken with a grain of salt. The author of the original, Ranulph Fiennes (who is played in the movie by Dion Mills in a small role) claims first-hand knowledge of the events and called the book he wrote on the subject (“The Feathermen” which he dubbed “factional” as a blurring of fact and fiction and which the movie is listed as “inspired by) although there has been much controversy as to whether his story was cut from whole cloth.

To me that is less important as to whether the story captures the attention of the viewers. To a certain extent, this one does, although some of the ins and outs seem unnecessary and vague. In fact, there are a whole lot of twists involving the various factions – the British government, the Feathermen, Danny’s group. At times I found myself simply noting and disregarding.

This is Jason Statham’s movie, which is a good and bad thing. Statham has an enormous charisma and of all the action heroes working today might well be the most likable. He has some limitations as an actor – at least, he hasn’t been pushed yet to exceed the range he’s displayed thus far – but what he does do he does well and he’s never better at it than he is here. He’s tough, he’s remorseless and he isn’t exactly a chatterbox. He’s also fiercely loyal and will walk through fire for a friend.

Owen is also a very likable actor and when he’s on his game, he’s as good as anyone. Unfortunately this isn’t one of his better parts; the character is written in kind of a scattershot fashion and for a brilliant strategist he is a little slow on the uptake. De Niro is sort of an afterthought, here more or less for marquee value; he more or less phones it in. Yvonne Strahovski from TV’s “Chuck” gets to use her native Australian accent in a fairly mundane role; there are brighter and better parts in store for her than this.

This is a pretty basic and entertaining action thriller but it certainly is flawed. It isn’t going to alter your perception or even stay long in your memory once you’ve seen it, but it will keep you entertained for the time you’re watching it and there could be worse testimonials than that.

REASONS TO GO: Some awesome action sequences and Statham at his best.

REASONS TO STAY: Nolan and De Niro are both almost afterthoughts. Some of the period look is jarring.

FAMILY VALUES: Very strong violence, lots of bad words and some sexuality and nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sir Ranulph Fiennes, author of the book this is based on, is cited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s greatest living explorer.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the action sequences will be more impressive on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil