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On its release, Deathwatch attracted attention simply because it was one of the first adult roles for mum's favourite Jamie Bell (Billy Elliott). It sees Bell trying to make that difficult transition from child star to serious actor via the well-trodden route (he swears!), but he is constantly fighting against a weak, at times nonsensical, script.
The story sees a group of British soldiers lost in the fog stumble into a German trench in which everyone is dead... but not as the result of the war. Ordered to hold the trench until reinforcements arrive, strange things happen leading the men to slowly turn on one another.
On paper, this is a pretty good idea and could have made a strong psychological horror film. The setting is perfect for such a tale and could easily be badged as Aliens in Mud - a group of soldiers trapped in a hostile environment are stalked by a deadly unknown menace. Indeed, one of Deathwatch's few strong points is that it is pretty good at establishing a sense of foreboding. The fog and mist that constantly envelope the trenches reinforces the sense of isolation and despair; it's a good way of hiding threats and creating tension, whilst also being a useful way of hiding the film's low budget!
Sadly, it suffers from an identity crisis. Unsure whether it wants to be a ghost story, a psychological horror, a war allegory or a generic action piece, it tries to be all and ends up being none. In some scenes it appears to condemn war and all its horrors, whilst the next scene could be accused of glorifying it. This uneven tone and lack of focus is a serious problem. The end result is a very fragmented whole which doesn't really make a lot of sense and is not really very satisfying on any level as a piece of entertainment or as a horror film.
Confused is a word which sums Deathwatch up perfectly with an apparent lack of cohesion to the whole film. Although the basic story arc is fairly obvious, other elements are rather muddled, either through underdevelopment or because the writers try and keep them "mysterious" (what, for example is the significance of the barbed wire and why is sometimes deadly, sometimes totally benign?). Some things are never made clear and the viewer is not given enough information to work them out for themselves. The writers keep things so "mysterious" that the poor old viewer remains plain mystified and spends much of the film not really knowing what is going on. A trying-to-be- -clever ending doesn't really clarify things and you are left with only the vaguest sense that you know what you've just watched and what it meant. Sadly, you get the impression that the writers don't really know either.
In terms of plot, Deathwatch is pretty formulaic and lacking in any sort of shocks. From a very early point, you know exactly which characters will still be standing at the end and which will have shuffled off this mortal coil. There are no scares (whether subtle, psychological ones or things jumping at you) and the film relies far too much on the foggy atmosphere to create something vaguely unsettling but never remotely scary.
So what about mum's favourite Jamie Bell and the rest of the cast, then? Well, sadly, they can't rescue it either. Clearly thinking that the film's plot and atmosphere would carry them through, not much attention is paid to the poor old actors or their characters. The cast can essentially be divided into four. 1) people called Jamie Bell; 2) people called Andy Serkis, 3) people who are that bloke from the BT ad (Kris Marshall) 4) everyone else. Bell and Serkis fare slightly better than the others in terms of character development, but not much. As Charlie Shakespeare, Bell is saddled with being the "good" soldier, acting as the voice of conscience and as such he's a little annoying. Whilst he may utter the odd profanity, it's not enough to convince us that he's now a "proper" adult actor and he never convinces either as a soldier or as someone traumatised by his experience of war.
Serkis has a little more to work with and at least appears to be having some kind of fun (certainly more than the viewer). Not that you could argue his character is subtle; he's simply the direct opposite of Shakespeare. Private Quinn is someone who revels in violence and the horrors of the trenches allows him to indulge legally in his one true talent - killing. Serkis' take on this role is simply to shout and yell his way through the film in one of the most unsubtle pieces of acting the world has ever seen. The careful characterisation of Gollum/Smeagol seem a long time ago.
Of the rest, they are all pretty much indistinguishable walking clichés merely there to become victims of the lurking horror. Amongst these walking stereotypes are the out-of-his-depth public school boy captain, the Scottish one, the kindly doctor one, the dour, experienced sergeant and some others that are so boring I couldn't remember anything about them 10 minutes after I'd finished watching the film.
This is a where the film's most serious flaw reveals itself. The characters are so badly fleshed out that when they start dying, you don't care. Deathwatch is a very passive, emotionless experience, simply a way of passing the time until the end credits role. This is a film which desperately needed that human connection, that feeling that you identified with the characters and wanted them to live. No amount of fog can hide the fact that without it, the film is dead in the water.
At the end of the day, Deathwatch fails because it never really decides on the film it wants to be. Although reasonably effective at building atmosphere, the confusing storyline, lack of real action, excitement or genuine scares and dull-as-ditchwater characters means that it never grabs the audience or fulfils the potential of its basic plot. The only real danger of death comes from the boredom induced when watching this film. Definitely one to avoid.
Director: Michael J Bassett
Running time: approx. 94 minutes
© Copyright SWSt 2010
I almost gave up on this rather graphic crime thriller with a slice of horror added in as the opening segment was so cofusing at the start it was a good way into the film before I really started to understand what was going on but I'm glad I stuck with it as in the end it was a pretty entertaining film.
Set in the trenches during the first world war it tells the story of a group of soldiers who attack a trench killing all of the Germans and taking one as a prisoner however during the night while they guard the trench strange things happen and in the morning sme of the men are missing.
Jamie Bell stars as Charlie alongside Andy Serkis who plays Quinn who is a rather unstable character. Both turn in strong performances and turn this rather low budget film into something very decent. It is a violent film and at times it is shot in darkness making it hard to distinguish who the various characters are. The low budget actaully works in its favourat times as it helps to build the tension and the sense of realism that the film creates which makes it a tense viewing experience.
Certainly a film that is worth checking out as it is a gritty sometimes violent thriller. Four Dooyoo stars from me.
This British movie is one I have been meaning to watch for a while. The idea of setting a horror film in one WW1 trench is very clever, and although you may think this limits it somewhat, it manages to create an atmosphere that keeps you glued to the screen throughout.
It features a British company who come across a trench in the mist one day, to find that it is rather flimsily guarded by the German opposition. They take the trench, and keep one prisoner, but when nightfall comes, something strange happens. Screams ring out, something starts messing with their minds, and when dawn breaks again, their number is reduced.
Now, we see what's going on, and with a limited budget, that's not really a lot. However, what they do show is done really well, and it is worth taking into account the fact that although we have seen what's going on, they haven't a clue. The scene was set quite well, and trying to put myself in the mindset of one of the company who has woken to the sound of screaming or has emerged into the daylight oblivious to the night's occurrences was made all the more easier.
Once I did, it heightened the frantic nature of the film, with the trust levels disappearing rapidly between them all. Add to the this emergence of their individual characters after about 40 minutes or so and you have quite an impact once the action starts. The performances worried me to start with, and the first half an hour was confusing more than anything. To be honest, I did wonder what with all the darkness, mud and same clothing whether I was ever going to differentiate between the soldiers.
However, the acting does this for you once it gets going. The couple that really stand out are the film's main character Charlie, played by Jamie Bell, and the psychotic one of the group, Quinn, played by the versatile Andy Serkis. The remainder of the cast do very well, but these two stood out for me. The acting helped the plot develop with its horror theme, with an element of the supernatural such as moving barbed wire and supposedly dead people moving, as well as a certain sense of madness setting in for some people.
The main attraction of the film for me was the raw and powerful elements that came through. This didn't hide behind fancy special effects or glossy locations, nor did it get support from a bundle of money thrown its way. It took its strength from the plot and from the cast involved, and this is what made it mroe believable as a story. I was riveted to the screen more than I thought I would be, and thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. There are some gruesome moments that are quite cringeworthy, with one involving some rats being quite repulsive in suggestion as well as slight visual. Aside from that, there is a lot of violence and some swearing as well.
Overall, it's a film I recommend watching. It's a horror with violence and quite a dark and morose film. Set completely in the trench, it will only appeal to those who like the idea of the plot, as it does what it says on the tin. It's currently available from amazon.co.uk for £4.48, and I recommend watching it.
It surprises me just how little known this British horror movie is, as it is a pretty decent film. Its strange that no one had previously tapped into the concept as well. I mean, what's one of the most frightening places to have been in in world history that a lot of people experienced? A trench in World War One right? I mean, millions of people experienced years hiding in these corridors dug into the earth, and we can't imagine how terrifying it must have been spending the nights in them, in the dark, with bombs flying overhead, and being surrounded by death, mud and rats, it was truly a horrifying experience. So, a pretty good idea to set a horror movie in one, as appose to the typical setting of forest or small town.
A group of British soldiers in 1917 find themselves lost in the mist after a charge against the Germans. They quickly come across a German trench that is almost completely unguarded, which they take instantly and decide to hold. Though, little time passes before things take a sinister turn. Why were there only a few Germans left guarding the trench? Why are there corpses everywhere? Why were the remaining Germans so frightened? What is causing the strange behaviour amongst them? The troops find themselves trapped in a nightmarish scenario as these questions get answered.
This movie has a good balance between horror and mystery, and although the special efeects aren't of a high calibre due to the budget of this film, they are used pretty well, and this is a genuinly eerie film. The atmosphere throughout is pretty creepy, what with the setting being a dull and dingy trench full of corpses, making it the perfect setting for death and intimidation to spread.
The acting here is pretty impressive, with Jamie Bell excelling as Charlie, the young lad who isn't attuned to the horrors of war, and still cares greatly about preserving human life, unlike his comrades.
My personal favourite was Dean Lennox Kelly (who plays Kev in Shameless) as Pvt. Willie McNess, the aggresive Scot with a caring side. I felt that he was unused, as his acting shone through in this, and he was definately the one who for me brought humour to this movie.
Andy Serkis also excelled as Pvt. Thomas Quinn, a moderately psychotic man with a relentless and very agressive hatred for the Germans.
Some of the scenes in this were truly horrifying, such as corpses being ripped apart by barbed wire, so this isn't a film for the squeemish.
The only downside to this movie is the end, which is quite simply pretty weird, so you'll have to find out why for yourself :)
This is a pretty underated British horror if you ask me, as it has a good few scares, and is a pretty unique script. Its impressive acting from the little known cast helps to push this above the level of your typical low budget horror.
In a nutshell, it's about a group of WW1 survivors trapped behind enemy lines, and they take refuge in a German trench whilst awaiting their rescue. And, from that point on, things start to get strange.... and they just keep on getting stranger!
This isnt actually a bad movie, it's relatively enjoyable, it's just that we've seen it ALL before, (Amityville horror for example)and to be honest, not a lot happens until the end, and then, what does happen makes no sense whatsoever (to me anyway, not that I claim to be a genius!).
I have to say, when I saw the trailer for this movie, it looked fantastic, but it was certainly very misleading as it promised so much which the movie itself just doesnt deliver. Dont get me wrong, I stand by my claim that this is isnt a bad movie, it just isnt as good as it could or should have been.
Worth a rent.
I know what many of you are thinking; Deathwatch. Deathwatch? Deathwatch!!! AAAAHHH !!! For goodness sake this film sounds cheesy as hell!!!! Well I suppose it does and to be honest the title has very little to do with anything in the film. But let the faults and slander stop there please because you will not be disappointed by what this film has to offer. Grit, atmosphere, frights, and good directing all mix well enough to make this film a worthwhile choice for a night in. The film is about a group of British allies in world war 1 losing touch with their regiment and ending up coming across a deserted German trench. It is deserted apart from the rats, dead German bodies and, well, something else. The first clue comes in the form of the question: if the Germans are dead where are the allies? And If they killed each other, why? That is the general theme to this Film. And nearly all the film is set in this trench. It might not make much of a movie you might think, and to be fair that could be a valid criticism however you need to take time to appreciate the suspense the director ensures comes across and the excellent filming and photography. It really does make for a gritty film and it all works out well. There is something very sinister in the trenches that intends to knock off the troops one by one. Towards the end of the film there is only one survivor, a sixteen year old lad who has a heart of gold compared to the other hardened allied troops. But here is where I actually do get confused. At the end there is a man who has let the sixteen year old boy go. Then when more allied troops arrive the whole scenario looks like it is about to happen again. You see, this man lets only people with good hearts out of the trench. But it makes more questions than answers (for me anyway) firstly who is the man? Is he the German that the boy saved? Or is he the Sergeant the boy tried to save? I think he was the German but w
hy is he now speaking English? Also If he lets good people go, why did he kill off the priest, what did he do wrong? It is all rather odd and I hope someone can help answer those questions but I will watch it again. However despite this you will actually like this film a lot, the characters are really well produced and this is so much the making of the film, without the characters the film would or at least could have died a horrible death (excuse the pun). You actually get to feel for the characters, so many horror films miss this by a mile ending up in you not caring who dies. For example you know the Captain is being a total fool but yet you know what he is doing makes sense and you end up feeling sorry for him. The filming makes you feel like you are there and it is hard and gritty which helps the atmosphere. The ghostly happenings are often and more spine tingling than scary but that does not matter much because the film is so well made. The only criticism I have is that the film could have lasted a little longer to give the script time to pan out more. But that?s only a minor point. The film is well worth seeing and I would recommend it. You wont dislike it but you may also not love it. It is one of those films that will certainly differ to peoples tastes. But really it wont be a waste of money to see it once. If your anything like me, you will want to see it again. Film: Deathwatch Rating: 15