Tuesday, October 26, 2010
NEW UK HORROR Day One: DEATHWATCH (2002)
Directed by Michael J. Bassett
There just aren't enough films set during World War One.
Especially when it comes to horror films. Because, if you ask me, there's not much more horrifying than the reality of life in the trenches during WWI. What with the mud, the stagnant water, the rats, the corpses, the shelling, the gas, the barbed wire, the madness, and the mindless killing, it's the perfect setting for a horror story.
Of course, in that setting you don't really need anything supernatural. You just need the setting.
And with that said, we have Deathwatch: a film that could be so much better than it is, but is still pretty good.
Warning: There are spoilers on the way!
Deathwatch is the story of a group of British soldiers in WWI who survive a devastating attack, only to stumble out of the fog to discover a German trench, which they then take and feel obligated to fortify and defend.
But they're not alone in the trench. They have a German prisoner who pleads with them to leave, telling them that there is Evil there and they're all going to die.
As one might expect, the soldiers slowly begin turning on one another, and one by one kill each other, until finally one one man survives. And by man, I mean the 15 year-old who lied about his age so he could go off to war.
There's a lot to like in this film. Gollum himself, Andy Serkis plays a thoroughly demented chap with a penchant for violence and murder, and Billy Elliot star, Jamie Bell plays our hero. The filth of life in the trenches is scary enough without the supernatural elements and, ultimately, that becomes the film's main shortcoming.
I just didn't think we needed the supernatural element at all for this to be an effective horror film. Watching these soldiers turn on one another in what is clearly an extremely disturbed situation would have been enough. Instead, we get a story where our characters all turn out to be dead, and the German soldier is testing them to see who is damned and who gets to move on.
All in all, it's a very disappointing ending to an extremely promising idea. But depending on one's mindset going in, it's still a nicely done piece of work. The horrors of WWI are honest and disturbing, and there's not really a poor performance in the lot. I enjoyed the film quite a bit, but just wished the ending had been more realistic instead of the fantastic ghost story twist it seemed to feel obligated to provide.