Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Final Girl Film Club - Deathwatch (2002)

Cody is endeavoring to write about all of the Final Girl Film Club entries he missed over the years. The movies will be covered in the original Film Club order in most cases, while some of the articles will be posted to coincide with certain dates.

Horror in the trenches.

Michael J. Bassett's directorial debut is centered on a group of British Army soldiers on the battleground of the Western Front in 1917, the midst of The Great War, "the war to end all wars", which twenty years later would begin to be referred to as World War I.

We first meet the men of Y Company as they stand in a trench, preparing to charge into battle. Among them is Jamie Bell as a character nicknamed Shakespeare, a sixteen-year-old who lied his way into service and is now seriously rethinking that decision. Scared and crying, Shakespeare is forced into the fight, partially at gunpoint. As the charge begins, another soldier tells him, "Welcome to Hell."

And Y Company is about to face levels of Hell they couldn't have even imagined.

Bullets fly, bombs go off, soldiers are killed, some get caught up in barbed wire, wounded lay screaming in the mud, the enemy sets off gas bombs... And with the transition of the film's titlecard, nine survivors of Y Company, along with a mortally wounded tenth, find that the battle has ended, the gas replaced by fog, and night has turned to day.

Marching through the fog, the men soon come across a trench occupied by German soldiers - who are so afraid of something else in the area that they completely disregard the presence of their enemies until they're forced to pay attention to them. Y Company take control of the trench and it's their duty to hold it until reinforcements arrive... Reinforcements that they can't reach with their poor radio signal. When they do contact someone through the static, all that comes out of the interaction is the person telling them that there were no survivors from Y Company.

Lost in the battlefield and considered dead, the men of Y Company are stuck in a rat-infested enemy trench. A trench that's full of the corpses of German soldiers who appear to have massacred each other. A trench where blood leaks through the dirt walls. As time passes, it becomes apparent that something very strange and perhaps otherworldy is going on here. Madness, paranoia, death, and intense hallucinations and/or supernatural experiences ensue.

Bassett did fine work with the writing and directing, and the actors all put in good performances. The most memorable character and the standout of the film is Andy Serkis, out of a mo-cap suit and in uniform, as Quinn, a man who starts off clearly mentally disturbed and gets worse over the course of the film. He's the sort of guy who goes into battle because he likes the idea of killing people, and war provides him with copious potential victims. He regresses so far as the story goes on that he draws comparisons to a caveman, even finding a spiked club to arm himself with.

It's a good set-up, mixing the horrors of war with the horrors of the presumably supernatural, and the setting is effectively unsettling/disgusting, with constant rain turning the surroundings into sloppy mud with rats crawling through it and corpses decomposing into the ground.

With all these positive things said, I still have to admit that this is not a movie that I particularly enjoy watching. I don't think it's bad on any level, but it doesn't hold my attention and my mind starts to wander every few minutes. It's just not for me. I would recommend others check it out for themselves, because it is a well made movie that will definitely appeal to some viewers more than it does to me. While my two viewings in the last ten years have been enough, I know it has fans who consider it an underrated and overlooked gem.


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