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A Look At Megan in
In the fight between man and werewolf, Kim Morrison takes a look at why zoologist Megan is the most interesting and complex character in Neil Marshall’s 2002 werewolf hit Dog Soldiers...
In 2002, Neil Marshall exploded into the world of horror with his directorial debut, Dog Soldiers (UK/Luxembourg, Neil Marshall, 2002). This modern werewolf tale reminded us how effective werewolf movies could be when they’re not hampered by questionable transformation scenes and poorly-designed effects.
The story centres around two highly-skilled and violent groups. First of all, we have the British soldiers, dumped in the middle of the Scottish Highlands on a training exercise against a special forces unit with the odds unknowingly stacked against them. Secondly, we have a group of extremely-organised werewolves, a nearby family who have embraced their lycanthropic ways and are more than happy to snack on anyone who wanders into the woods near their home. On the face of it, these are the key players in Dog Soldiers, as both groups engage in a deadly battle while the soldiers desperately try to survive until sunrise.
But in between, and arguably the thread tying them both together is Megan (Emma Cleasby). Stuck between these combating groups, Megan has reason to have allegiance to each and is, therefore, a deeply conflicted character. On the first watch, Megan is nothing more than a helpful stranger with a little more werewolf knowledge than the average person, but on repeat viewings, she is a fascinating character study.
We’re first introduced to Megan when she fortuitously drives along a remote Scottish road and happens to intersect with the British soldiers as they are running for their lives from the surrounding darkness and a hungry pack of werewolves. She claims she was looking for them after hearing gunfire the night before, and knowing they would soon be in trouble if they weren’t already. With Sergeant Wells (Sean Pertwee) leaking his guts everywhere, and Captain Ryan (Liam Cunningham) barely alive, the group are delighted for the chance of a quick escape, and don’t ask too many questions. Megan claims her friends own a farm in the glen nearby and suggests the group head there to seek refuge. While the Scottish geography is a little questionable, it’s apparently 50 miles to the nearest phone and Fort William over four hours away, the local farm seems like the safest option for the soldiers.
Megan gets to the point fairly quickly and explains that she knows about the werewolves, having moved to the area as a zoologist looking to investigate the strange goings-on in the local woods. She has been tracking and studying the wolves for around a year, and she’s very insistent that the men recognise it’s werewolves they are dealing with to ensure they are prepared to meet their foes head-on. However, it transpires that Megan’s need to help the men is not out of the goodness of her heart, and is instead for her own gain.
Megan originally thinks the soldiers are there as part of a rescue mission, that perhaps they are aware of the werewolves and have finally come to rid the glen of them once and for all. However, while Ryan and his team have been trying to capture the werewolves and use them as part of their weapons program, neither team of soldiers are there intending to rescue Megan or destroy the werewolves.
Megan’s presence seems strange as she could simply leave the area to avoid the threat of the wolves, but as the movie climaxes, we find out Megan is a werewolf herself, albeit a conflicted one. While she is friends with the family in the glen, who are also revealed to be the encroaching werewolf pack (and turned her into a werewolf), she is now unsure if she can live this way: ‘I came here to be at one with nature – well I got what I wanted. Now I have to live with it,’ Megan laments when she reveals her true nature to Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd). It’s unclear if Megan asked to be changed and now regrets her decision, or was changed against her will. Either way, she’s unhappy with her new form and hopes that the soldiers will offer her a way out of her dilemma.
This is what makes Megan such a great character and why the film bears repeat viewings. From the beginning, we now know she is a werewolf in hiding and it allows the viewer to study her actions and the way she carefully chooses her words in a more in-depth manner. While she does twist the truth on some occasions, it’s clear that Megan wants to help the soldiers, even if she has selfish motives. Otherwise, she could have left them to be quickly picked off in the woods. She chooses to hedge her bets on the group of highly-skilled soldiers with weapons and a strategic way of thinking to get her out of the pack because she realises it’s the only chance she has to escape and perhaps take the wolves out in the process.
However, she still has a deep loyalty for the wolves, and while logic tells her she needs to get out of this situation, something keeps pulling her back. As Wells and Cooper chat on the stairs, Megan blurts out that she knows how to kill the wolves, a statement which neither men hear over their own conversation. Megan looks like she regrets bringing it up, losing her nerve quickly, and doesn’t mention it again. It’s a moment of weakness that passes as quickly as it comes. While Megan continues to help the soldiers where possible, she never offers a concrete solution to killing the wolves again, perhaps deciding that she cannot deal with the guilt of having sealed the wolves’ fate herself.
While Megan starts off as very keen to help the men, her resolve definitely starts to slip as the night goes on. While she wants to bond with the men and align herself with the side of good in the hopes of escaping her situation, her allegiance is slowly pulled back to the wolves. Megan initially views the soldiers as her saviours, but she soon realises the odds of them winning are extremely slim, and so from a survival point of view, it makes sense to give in to her animal instinct and align herself with the winning side.
With Terry (Leslie Simpson) and Joe (Chris Robson) now dead, and Megan clearly worried about the soldiers’ chances, she stares out the farmhouse’s window. On first watch this scene seems like she was merely observing the wolves as they dive through the trees outside. Subsequent views, however, seem to suggest that Megan is communicating with the wolves. Megan knows exactly how much ammunition the men have left, and how close they are to being defenceless. The wolves howl, drawing Megan’s attention to the shed at the edge of the property, and showing Megan how the soldiers can finally be defeated. It’s not long after this that Megan suggests that the wolves are likely camped out in the shed and that it makes complete sense to use the last of the group’s resources to blow up the shed and hopefully kill the wolves in the process.
The trust she has built with the soldiers at this point means they go along with her plan without any worry, and it’s this complete acceptance of Megan that proves to be the soldiers’ downfall. Not only does the shed explosion rid the men of both their last chance of escape and their resources, but it also proves the perfect distraction for Megan to unlock the house, letting the werewolves in and finally accepting her wolfy fate.
The betrayal is particularly hard to take for Cooper, who has watched most of his team die at the hands of the wolves. Megan helped him glue Wells’ guts back in, used guns and camera flashes to keep the wolves at bay, and even sat and played the piano as the soldiers quietly contemplated their fate. To find out she was never interested in their welfare is too much for Cooper. He doesn’t care about her inner struggle and the complexity of her decisions. He only cares that in the end, she’s chosen the side of the wolves. While Cooper hesitates to shoot a dog in the movie’s opening scene, a choice which indirectly leads to him being the target of the special forces and their weaponised werewolf plan, he makes sure not to hesitate here and promptly shoots Megan before she has the chance to transform.
While this may seem like the end of Megan, the DVD commentary reveals that she survives this attack and is one of the fully-transformed werewolves that attack Wells in the kitchen shortly before the farmhouse is blown up. It’s hard to see in the darkness of the shot, but Neil Marshall comments that the lead werewolf missing an eye is Megan in her wolf form. While she seemed conflicted about her part in the pack before, the fact she is involved in Spoon’s death and leads the others towards Wells shows that she is more at ease with her werewolf nature once she allows ‘nature to take its course’, as she puts it, and stops suppressing her transformation.
Werewolf movies typically fall into two categories. The first is films like Howl (Paul Hyett, 2015) and The Howling (Joe Dante, 1981) where the main focus is the horror of these flesh-hungry creatures who are hunting human victims. The second category is films such as Ginger Snaps (John Fawcett, 2000) and An American Werewolf in London (John Landis, 1981), where we focus more on the werewolf’s victim, who now has to deal with their changing body, nature and hunger. Dog Soldiers initially seems to fit into the first category, as we don’t spend any time with the wolf family in their human form, or find out how this happened to them. We focus on them only as a villain while in full wolf form. Most of the soldiers are quickly eaten and reduced to nothing more than a soupy mess, so they don’t even have time to turn. Wells and Ryan do end up infected, but we only deal with the beginnings of their infections, which are so swift neither character really has much time to contemplate their situation.
However, once it’s understood that Megan is a wolf herself, Dog Soldiers can definitely be viewed from the other perspective as well. Everything action Megan takes is her fighting against the call of the pack and the new set of natural instincts she has inherited from her adoptive family. Logic tells her that she needs to get away from this violent and dangerous situation, but the call of the wild is constantly fighting against her more human ideas. The family, however long they have been wolves, have completely embraced their way of life, but Megan finds herself on the outside. The family have no problems cooking up pots of what is presumably human stew, or filling their basement with the belongings of those they kill. However, the wolves clearly recognise the struggle in Megan and use the bond they already have as a group to bring her back onside, rather than attacking her for what could be seen as a family betrayal. Megan is a useful asset to them and they convince her to aid them so they can live together as a united unit.
It’s interesting to watch the internal conflict that rages inside Megan as she desperately tries to hang on to her human side. In the end, it’s a very human thing that actually makes Megan give into her wolf side: the need for survival. She knows the soldiers are on the losing side, and so it makes sense to align with the wolves, especially when her instincts are pulling her so strongly in that direction anyway. The fact that Megan can resist her transformation for the majority of the night under the natural call of the full moon demonstrates just how persistent she is.
Because she is a civilian woman and the only character that isn’t portrayed as a highly-skilled killer, she flies under the ‘threat’ radar until she decides to out herself. And yet, Megan is one of the most dangerous characters in the film, with a working knowledge of both the soldiers and the werewolves. She bides her time, weighing up the best decision and knowing that the soldiers won’t worry about a friendly zoologist when there’s a pack of werewolves scratching at the door.
Even at the end of the film, and having seen it as many times as I have, it’s hard to view Megan as a villain. She’s the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing as she tries to find a way to ignore the natural instincts now coursing through her veins and find a way out of this situation. Like many characters infected by werewolves, she recognises that she either has to deal with the changes in her body or she has to die. And while some characters choose to sacrifice themselves for the great good, Megan chooses life.