Thursday, March 08, 2007

Awoo! Werewolves of Scotland

Art Boy and I dispatched some rare steaks yesterday and settled down with "Dog Soldiers," the previous film by "Descent" director Neil Marshall. Having cherished "The Descent," I was willing to set aside my aversion to movies about soldiers, particularly since this group of soldiers comes under attack by werewolves in the Scottish wilderness. Outstanding! For the first hour, this movie is just about perfect. There's a good opening scare followed by a quick but chilling scene introducing two of the main characters. By the time it's over, Marshall has efficiently established his hero, his villain, his monster, his setting and his mood. He is so good.

The excellence continues as our soldiers tramp through the woods, gradually coming to realize that they're up against something bad. As in "The Descent," Marshall does a nice job setting up a group of individual characters, who bicker and tease each other, and who respond to the increasing stress in their own idiosyncratic ways. And as in "The Descent," there are witty film references. The soldiers, along with a fetching zoologist, take refuge in a farmhouse that they board up and defend "Night of the Living Dead"-style. "Short, controlled bursts," their commander advises, echoing an order from "Aliens." And one of the guys is even named Bruce Campbell - a reference that feels especially fitting as notes of high camp start to intrude.

Really, once the soldiers are inside the house, it all goes downhill. This is a real shame - I love horror movies set in houses. But here, none of the defenses are logical (sometimes the windows are boarded, sometimes they aren't), and keeping track of the soldiers' positions becomes impossible. They make an NOTLD-inspired run to an outbuilding to retrieve a car, then once it's back at the house, they sit around and listen to the zoologist play "Clair de Lune." What? It's like Marshall decided to have it go several directions, shot several different second halves, and then spliced them all together. At one point I turned to ask Art Boy what was going on, and he had fallen asleep. Let's not even get into the werewolves themselves, who are admirably not CGI creations but who unfortunately resemble interpretive dancers wearing silly masks.

Still, since the first hour was so good, and considering it was direct-to-video, I recommend "Dog Soldiers." You might try drinking a lot during the first half so you don't notice the second half as much.

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