When we think of a movie about a group of battle-weary soldiers fighting a monster with only their guns and wits—we often think of Aliens. But another film, inspired by James Cameron’s sci-fi classic, is streaming right now on Shudder, and fans of the Alien franchise shouldn’t miss it. Dog Soldiers, written and directed by Neil Marshall, relates the adventures of a band of soldiers struggling to survive the onslaught of werewolves in the Scottish Highlands. Aliens fans and horror devotees take note.
Much like Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Aliens, Megan is a strong female character who knows what’s-what about the lethal creatures, regardless of whether anyone will believe her.
Our story begins when a British Army Special Forces unit, commanded by steely but inexperienced Sergeant Wells (portrayed by Sean Pertwee), commences a routine training exercise deep in the rugged Scottish Highlands. There, they encounter the gruesome aftermath of a mysterious attack, discovering the brutalized remains of a previous Special Forces unit. Its dying captain can only warn them of a dark threat lurking in the forest before he succumbs to his wounds.
As Dog Soldiers progresses, things, predictably, get worse. The band of soldiers lack the means to communicate with the outside world due to their damaged radio, and, a la Aliens, must shelter in a discreet, isolated location—in this case, an abandoned farmhouse—while waiting, whether they know it or not, for the worst.
A pulse-pounding struggle for survival ensues as action blends with horror in a riveting homage to Aliens.
In the farmhouse, the troops encounter a zoologist, Megan (played wonderfully by Emma Cleasby), immersed in conducting research in the area. Much like Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Aliens, Megan is a strong female character who knows what’s-what about the lethal creatures, regardless of whether anyone will believe her.
The monsters roaring through Dog Soldiers, Megan reveals, are no mere wolves but actually lycanthropic creatures, i.e., werewolves. As night descends, a relentless, bloodthirsty pack of werewolves besieges the farmhouse, forcing the soldiers to unite and defend themselves from the onslaught. A pulse-pounding struggle for survival ensues as action blends with horror in a riveting homage to Aliens.
Make no mistake: while the soldiers lack sufficient ammunition, they are long on military prowess. They fight tooth and nail with the supernatural baddies as the body count rises, and secrets about both the werewolves and the real reason for the mission are slowly revealed.
Having originally written the first of many drafts in 1996, it took Neil Marshall six years to whittle and perfect Dog Soldiers’s script, while seeking and acquiring financing. One creative challenge the writer-director surmounted was crafting a script and story focused on the soldiers, instead of werewolves.
The end goal being an action film embedded in the experiences and lives of the human protagonists, blending in horror simultaneously. In Marshall’s eyes, the film surrounds the plight of soldiers fighting an enemy—an enemy, in this case, that are werewolves, but could be zombies, vampires, human soldiers, etc.
Whether seen in 4K, Blu-ray, or the original format, the film offers a masterclass in tension and terror, fusing action and horror into an adrenaline-pumping story, engaging from start to finish.
Principle photography proved an ordeal. Marshall initially scouted and planned shooting in the first locational candidate, Isle of Man, which was later replaced with Manitoba, itself finally swapped for Luxembourg. The main incentive for shooting Dog Soldiers Luxembourg—or any location—were its tax rebates and special offers, a common motivator in the logistics of filmmaking. Snow, which falls heavily during the Luxembourg winter, delayed filming schedules and harried the set.
Critically, the film enjoyed positive responses and reviews. The movie holds an 81 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, derived from 42 reviews, or an average rating of 7.1/10. Critics, such as David Harkin from Taste of Cinema, noted and enjoyed the influence of Aliens, observable in the lack of typical werewolf drama or pathos, and focus, instead, on the action and perspective of the soldiers. Dog Soldiers earned a similarly positive response from Jamie Russell of the BBC, who assigned it four out of five stars and praised the film’s comedic chops.
Filmed on a budget of two million pounds and netting about five million pounds, the film can be considered a commercial success. And it invites rewatching and continual attention, having won a global community of loyal fans. In 2020, Vertigo Releasing put out a celebrated 4K restoration of the film. Later, in 2022, Second Sight Films produced and distributed a limited edition Blu-ray.
Whether seen in 4K, Blu-ray, or the original format, the film offers a masterclass in tension and terror, fusing action and horror into an adrenaline-pumping story, engaging from start to finish. Dog Soldiers benefits from a tight, laugh-inducing script, round, well-developed characters, and unrelenting pacing, all enriching the gripping tale of survival against seemingly insurmountable odds and supernatural terror.