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Deathwatch (2002)

Deliver them from evil.

Directed by:

Michael J Bassett

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 94 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: United Kingdom

In the dirty and dismal trenches of World War I, nine British soldiers prepare to go 'over the top' to charge a heavily-fortified German machine-gun emplacement. Timid underage soldier Charlie Shakespeare (Jamie Bell) needs particular encouragement as he is finding war not to his taste. Led by Captain Jennings (Laurence Fox), the young soldiers enter the confusion of the battlefield and find themselves lost in fog. They find a complex network of German forward trenches that appears to be abandoned except for three enemy survivors. The soldiers' confusion increases when they discover that the trenches are filled with dozens of dead Germans, most of whom seem to have been killed with German bayonets – they would appear to have been slaughtered by their own side, for reasons unknown.

The British squad settle in to defend the German trench, trying to contact their own side on a radio they have found but they get no answer. Soon they find that strange things are happening. They are being set one against the other, and fighting amongst themselves. Then the very trenches themselves seem to be out to get them. Picked off one-by-one, the soldiers get increasingly nervous while Captain Jennings goes into denial and insists that nothing is wrong. Things come to a head when the aggressive and somewhat crazy Private Quinn (Andy Serkis) starts torturing captured German Friedrich (Torben Liebrecht).

This horror film with a largely British cast is built around an intriguing idea and starts exceptionally well. Unfortunately, it does not entirely manage to continue in the same vein. The first half creates plenty of tension and leaves an audience waiting for things to happen, but the second half never really builds to a climax and fails to take advantage of the opportunity to deliver something different from the norm. The ending really comes as no surprise. The film does have a deep message – that the soldiers are already dead on the battlefield and are facing their judgement – but that is not explained clearly enough and it is easy to overlook. Without the message the film loses much of its impact. The ensemble cast are all highly competent, and Andy Serkis is outstanding as Private Quinn. Sadly the characters they are given to play are rather clichéd – the straight officer, the crazy warmonger, the timid youngster, and so on. However, the setting is remarkable as the mud, barbed wire, corpses and rats go a long way to adding atmosphere to the film.

It's Got: Some pretty lively barbed wire horror effects.

It Needs: A lighter touch and more pace in the second half.

DVD Extras Plenty of extras including a lot of commentary insights with this single-disc release. Extras: Commentary by director Michael J Bassett and actors Jamie Bell and Laurence Fox, Commentary by actor Andy Serkis, Directors commentary, Featurette, Deleted and alternate scenes, Behind the scenes, Cast & crew interviews, Theatrical trailer. DVD Extras Rating: 7/10

Alternatives:

28 Days Later, Dog Soldiers, The Keep

Summary

Decently-made war horror that does suffer a little from a slow second half and a not unexpected ending.

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