The Highlands of Scotland, the serene home of mountains and forests, of glorious sunsets and clear rivers and monstrous flesh-eating midges, now become host to a squad of six soldiers led by the pragmatic but dependable Sergeant Harry Wells, engaged in a training mission operating under radio silence and carrying blank ammunition.
Their first night interrupted by an injured cow falling off a cliff above them onto their campfire, the second day brings worse, a distress flare which leads them to their opposite number in the exercise all but one of whom are dead, Captain Richard Ryan, laid bleeding amongst unused nets, tranquiliser darts and a smashed radio.
A man known to Private Lawrence Cooper from a recent evaluation when he was passed over for promotion for refusing a direct order which he felt went against his conscience, with darkness falling they take Ryan and move out, finding shelter in a farmhouse when they are rescued on the road by local girl Megan, the enemy who was pursuing them now laying siege on a base never designed with defence as a consideration.
Originally released in 2002, Dog Soldiers was written, directed and edited by Neil Marshall whose second feature, The Descent from 2005, is regarded by many as one of the greatest British horror films of all time, but it was with his debut that he first made his mark, biting deep and drawing blood with a film in equal parts shocking, frightening and hilarious.
British horror having been defined for decades by the sumptuous but repressed costume dramas of Hammer or the cautionary portmanteaus of Amicus with even rare outliers such as Hellraiser presented gore in a cosy suburban setting populated by Transatlantic accents, Dog Soldiers instead unleashed something wild which neither audiences nor the trapped soldiers could fathom, only experience.
Breathlessly shot as a war movie rather than following the traditions of horror, it is the kinetic action which defines Dog Soldiers as much as the performances and the creatures crafted through costume and animatronics, distended lupine figures whose form defies human body proportion as they slip through shadowed forest and open window, physical presences which are as effective now as two decades ago.
Banter and bonding transformed into survival tactics and discipline barely covering desperation, with the sergeant grievously injured it is Cooper who must lead the survivors through the night into the light of dawn against not only the relentless enemy at the door whose territory they have violated but the one inside.
With Rome‘s Kevin McKidd, Gotham‘s Sean Pertwee and Outcasts‘ Liam Cunningham as Cooper, Wells and the sinister Captain Ryan, his presence in the Highlands speaks of a covert operation beyond the stated training mission and the audience are propelled helplessly along with the squad, tough men compelled to believe by the evidence of their own wounds and genuinely terrified.
Dog Soldiers has been remastered in 4K for digital release from Monday 12th October with a cinema release on Friday 23rd October