Deathwatch (2002)

Director: M J Bassett
Starring: Jamie Bell, Ruaidhri Conroy, Mike Downey, Laurence Fox, Kris Marshall, Hans Matheson, Matthew Rhys, Andy Serkis. UK. 1h 34m

The general trends with World War II movies is to punch your audience right in the gut with the violence and depression of the war. With all the progressions of cinema they all translate in more effect ways of demonstrating the darkest side of human nature and the brutal fight for freedom, but this isn’t the only way to portray the horrors of this dark chapter, since the was there have been numerous ghost stories written about lost soldiers, everlasting love and the occult nature of the “the enemies” of righteous civilisation. But is Deathwatch the new ghostly war story we need?

Bassett’s track record includes an array of action movies all tinged with the macabre, but Bassett is versatile in his approach with the lavish fantasy Solomon Kane filled with magic myth and monsters, and Wilderness, a group of wayward chavs verses a mystery slasher while stranded on a secluded island, he’s not a man who liked to be pinned down with a specialty apart from directing engaging movies.

With this gruesome starting point in the trenches of WW2, and in all honesty he’s got a bit more light hearted over the years but there’s a lot of hope for his up and coming project Blood Horn. Opening your directorial career off with this particular subject is gutsy, it’s an area filled with experts, both scholarly and armchair and they will generally make or break a movie’s success relating to its accuracy, but Deathwatch almost skirts around those issues, it’s pretty on point in terms of weapons and dress, but as most of the action takes place in a dark, muddy trench filled with corpses and shadows, it’s all down to solid acting and some bloody murders to keep the audience going and with a really competent cast, there’s a hussle for who comes out on top.

A bunch of squaddies under night time fire, find themselves walking through a thick daytime fog, not really concerned about the possible shift in time, they seek shelter in a bloodied abandoned trench, but when the corpses start to shuffle in the darkness, they become paranoid but forever in denial that anything sketchy is going on, because fear! The film is driven by the levels of fear, which rarely drop especially at night time as each man sinks into his own personal hell and entering a psychotic episode while battle weary and fearful makes each man quite dangerous to himself and his comrades.

It’s brilliant seeing Jamie Bell’s big return after Billy Elliot, but it’s impossible to see him shake his young boyish face, his character, Private Charlie Shakespeare, who has lied to get into this outfit, as an under aged, sixteen year old conscript he’s slightly different to other more battle savvy troops. He’s no were as the pale and disjointed Captain Bramwell Jennings (Fox) who’s privilege has at least got him a fancy title and in theory less work to do but he’s the first to start cracking mentally without the aid of nanny. The most dangerous of the bunch by far is Andy Serkis nasty character Private Thomas Quinn, who seems to relish in the freedom to kill and be a jerk, this war is really a huge chance for him to explore his killer tendencies. Sadly his fate is clearly shown in the trailer and it’s the most impressive death scene.

Despite the tiny budget, Bassett has managed to confidently produce an intelligent film with some impressive effects, and a compelling cast of characters, the script is on the dull side and there could be of an offering of camaraderie but otherwise it’s a brilliant throwback to the war with a healthy layer of redemption and evil spirits.

Once the mechanics and how and why all of this is happening to the group is revealed, the main almost sane characters find themselves at a moral junction, they have a prisoner, foreign soldier who they are supposed to be safeguarding but a few of the crazies have a very different attitude oh what good hospitality is. As the story boils down to doing the right thing in the face of adversity or else, but without the typical religious connotations but a wonderful damning edge to the final scene which sets up a whole new level of fear,

Rating: 6/10

R: Solomon Kane (2009), Overlord (2018), Wilderness (2006), Bunker (2001)
L: Bunker Movies
5s: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis
A: The AOFA Brief Introduction and History to Bunker Movies

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