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I am always a little dubious about horror films that garner a '15' certificate. I don't know why, maybe it's because I grew up with the 'Friday the 13th' and 'Nightmare on Elm Street' movies that were always straight '18' certificates. Maybe I think that a lower certificate means less bang for your buck. And maybe that's why I've left it so long to take myself along to see this low budget, British horror film, despite of nothing but positive word of mouth.

My loss. Dog Soldiers is a great piece of filmmaking, that by no means scrimps on the gore. Centering on six soldiers who are dropped into the forests of Scotland (actually filmed in Luxembourg), on a routine training mission. It effortlessly introduces and develops each of its primary characters within the first fifteen minutes and we find ourselves sitting around a campfire with the squaddies as they begin to share jokes and ghost stories amongst themselves, as nighttime draws in. One such story concerns the very woods they are in and how, over the last few years, a number of hikers have mysteriously disappeared without trace.

From there, it's only a hop, skip and a surprise werewolf attack until the soldiers find themselves barricaded in a remote farmhouse whilst trying to fend off the attentions of the local, unfriendly lycanthropes. Director/Writer Neil Marshall successfully keeps the tension at fever pitch by keeping every strand of the story alive and well - which is more than can be said for the soldiers. Thanks to pitch perfect casting and characterisation, it's never obvious who is likely to be the next victim or who will survive to the final credits, if any, which is more than can be said for most Hollywood-style 'Scream'-a-likes.

The performances are all good, but particular praise should be given to Sean Pertwee, whom I have never been a great fan of. Here, however, he portrays the patrol's senior officer with exactly the right hint of experience and a wicked pinch of gallows humour that is to be found all the way through the movie ('I hope I give you the sh*ts,' quips one unfortunate victim to a wolf, just prior to being devoured). Trainspotting's Kevin McKidd, who famously missed out on the photoshoot for the poster that made icons of Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle, is also excellent as the Special Forces reject who finds himself accepting more and more responsibilities for his colleagues safety as the attack progresses.

The effects are good for such a relatively low budget film and Marshall does the right thing by keeping his creatures mostly out of sight until the last fifteen or twenty minutes or so. Occasional flashes of teeth and wolf-like silhouettes provide ample food for the imaginations, so that, when we do finally see the beasts, we tell ourselves that they are actually more frightening than they really are. As I mentioned before, this is not a flick for the weak stomached. The gore factor is as high as any horror film I've seen in the last few years but never once did I feel it was gratuitous, maybe thanks to the thoroughly British streak of  black comedy that runs throughout.

It's not a perfect film by any means. Some of the pacing becomes rather one-note during the mid section and some will point to maybe a few too many similarities to other 'siege' films, such as 'Assault on Precinct 13', 'The Thing' and even 'Aliens'. I would be prepared to give Marshall the benefit of the doubt, obviously a movie lover (check out the 'Matrix' quote near the end), he should certainly be a British film-maker to watch over the coming years. Although, I suspect 'Dog Soldiers' will find it's real audience on video and DVD (a cast commentary would be fascinating), it would be a shame not to do the honourable thing, support British film-makers and see it on the big screen before it's too late. 


Sean G