I turned up to watch Neil Marshall's new movie Dog Soldiers with some misgivings. For one thing, low budget horror movies don't exactly have a diamond pedigree, especially not the recent British crop. And for another, this has got Sean Pertwee in it; a man who's CV does not suggest first-rate quality control. But I'm always hoping to be pleasantly surprised and so in I went.
After a bit of scene-setting the story kicks off with a six-man army patrol being dumped in the Scottish highlands to take part in exercises. It's led by tough but caring Sergeant Wells (Pertwee) and his mate Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd from Trainspotting). While they have a pleasant time yomping through the heather the prospect of a 'Bad Movie' looms before the audience as the dialogue is unconvincing and cliched, characterisation consists of a single trait per squaddy, endlessly repeated, and it's clear the director has watched Predator, Aliens and The Blair Witch Project too many times: big, hairy, howling monsters are on the loose and pretty soon come after our heroes.
But things improve rapidly once they fetch up in a remote cottage with a secretive and ruthless Special Ops officer (Liam Cunningham), who's in the area on a secret mission, and a comely young zoologist (Emma Cleasby) who claims to know what the things chasing them are: werewolves. While the audience is not shocked, the W-word being all over the poster, the soldiers are. But as the monsters encircle the cottage they're forced to believe as the battle to survive begins.
Well, I won't tell you any more of the plot, suffice to say that Evil Dead joins the list of ripped-off movies, along with John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13. Actually, if you've seen Assault then you pretty much know the plot of Dog Soldiers already, it owes Carpenter's film that big a debt. To be fair, there's a twist near the end that's original to this film, but it's not a very good one and blows several large holes in the plot. This is just the most obvious of several problems with the script: several squad members are indistinguishable, there's a lot of fairly ropey dialogue, and it's really not very subtle writing when one character says to another, 'Don't lose this knife, it's solid silver', within two minutes of the movie starting.
This is a low-budget movie and a lot of the time it shows. The werewolf costumes are distinctly variable, but my main problem was that sunlight clearly shines in through the cottage windows when most of the film is set at night. But this is a minor quibble as there is much here to enjoy. There are some very effective moments (and you can have fun spotting which other films they've been nicked from) and there's a mordant wit at work. The comedy is jet black but nevertheless effective and fans of gore will find quite a bit to entertain them (this is only rated 15 in the UK, which amazed me). I learnt new things about superglue, too.
There are some fun performances: McKidd is surprisingly effective as the hero, very dour and committed. It's an effective contrast with Sean Pertwee, who is - as usual - shamelessly, frenetically hammy but nonetheless highly entertaining. Emma Cleasby is okay in a fairly thankless role, too.
I quite enjoyed Dog Soldiers in the end. It's no frills, down and dirty stuff, but that suits the subject matter very well. In the end it's almost exactly the sum of its parts - so it's lucky that most of those parts were in pretty good films to start with.
Just in case any of you logged on solely to read the promised review of Attack of the Clones (a fairly remote possibility, I suspect), I feel I ought to explain the reason for its non-appearance. This is quite simply because I have yet to make my mind up as to whether it's any good or not, which is almost unheard of for me. Yes, it's technically superb, and yes, in many ways it's a significant improvement over The Phantom Menace - but there are also lots of things dramatically and structurally wrong with it. Anyway, I'm taking the rest of the -wix clan off to see it this weekend and hopefully the slightly less fevered atmosphere will restore what I laughingly refer to as my critical faculties. Sorry about the delay...