As I’m writing a World War One story at the moment, and as I’m a sucker for supernatural horror, the 2002 film ‘Deathwatch’ was always going to be a must-watch DVD.
The film is about British soldiers who attack a German position, only to find it near-deserted. It soon becomes clear something isn’t right, and the group descends into in-fighting fuelled by the pressures of war and the fear of the supernatural evil lurking in the trench.
The film shows World War One at its worst, with the unrelenting mixture of mud, blood and terror life in the trenches must have consisted of.
‘Deathwatch’ was given a ‘15’ certificate in the UK, which means it doesn’t have excessive ‘in yer face’ violence or gore. There was enough unpleasantness for it to justify its place in the horror genre, though, especially as much of the horror is in the setting and soldiers’ psychology. In some ways I was reminded of the descent into barbarism in ‘Lord of the Flies’.
There was enough tension and conflict throughout to keep me interested.
The characters are a little one-dimensional and stereotypical, but I don’t have a problem with that. In a film where there is a danger all the characters might look the same (all young males, in uniform and covered in mud), making each an extreme helped me tell them apart. One who stood out was Lawrence Fox as Bramwell Jennings. He gave a brilliant performance as an upper class officer who was well out of his depth.
The part of the film that disappointed me was the supernatural. I didn’t really get to grips with what it was, or what it wanted from the soldiers. I’ve always thought World War One offers great scope for supernatural horror because the setting is a horrific enough starting point. There are also some supernatural ‘events’ to hang a plot on, such as the disappearance of the Royal Norfolk Regiment at Gallipoli, or the Angels of Mons. A couple of reviews suggest the film would have worked without the supernatural, and I think I’d agree.
I was, though, impressed with the ending. It wasn’t a particularly fresh horror finale, but was enough of a surprise and seemed right for the film.
So, ‘Deathwatch’ was well worth watching, but I think fell down in a couple of places. I’ll give it three out of five.