Grim. That’s the word that will come to mind a lot throughout Deathwatch. Grim.
Deathwatch is 2002 horror movie written and directed by Michael J. Bassett. It stars Jamie Bell, Laurence Fox, Andy Serkis, Hugo Speer and Kris Marshall.
Set during World War I, the movie opens on a squad of British soldiers assaulting a German trench at night. Instantly you’re reminded of the horrors of that war as the mud, noise and smoke of gunfire attacks the senses. It’s disorienting to watch so god knows what it was like for the soldiers who actually fought in it.
From this squad, we mainly focus on ‘Shakespeare’ (Bell) who is so frightened from the chaos around him that he attempts to run away. Then the screen fades to black as shells drop.
The next morning it seems as though the entire squad survived the night including Shakespeare. They make their way through thick mist and come across a huge network of German trenches.
Inside they face off against a group of German soldiers. The squad try to get them to surrender but the German soldiers seem more scared of something further down the trench.
This is when Private Quinn (Serkis) shows what kind of man he is as he shoots one of the German soldiers in cold blood. One named Friedrich (Torben Liebrecht) surrenders and the squad celebrate what they believe is them having broken through the German lines.
Captain Jennings (Laurence Fox) commands the rest of the squad to secure the trenches but as they explore they find horrific sights. Bodies wrapped up and displayed in barbed wire and a huge pile of dead German soldiers. Something went wrong in these trenches causing the soldiers to turn on each other.
The squad know something isn’t right but stuck behind enemy lines they have no choice but to await rescue. Then night falls…
Deathwatch deserves much praise for how atmospheric it is. The well-crafted imagery, great sound design and general nastiness of the muddy trenches creates a really ominous feel. If the film had been built on this alone it would have been a much better movie but alas, it loses its way with unnecessarily over the top attempts at horror. These moments lack scares and actually come across bit hokey no matter how well the cast do to sell it.
Talking of which, what a great cast Deathwatch has. Jamie Bell’s innocent Shakespeare, Laurence Fox’s stiff commanding officer, Hugo Speer’s straight-talking number two but the best of the bunch is Andy Serkis’ unhinged character. A man that is every bit as terrifying as what is in the trenches.
Watching the squad fall apart is dehumanising, it’s brutal at times but again drops the ball by trying to force in a pacifist message that is far too heavy-handed. It makes the finale feel particularly lacklustre as it was obvious from the moment certain characters were introduced.
Deathwatch is a good movie based on the calibre of acting and the tension it creates. It starts off running but inevitably runs out of breath slowing to a crawl before getting a second wind. Unfortunately, by time the finish is in sight, it’s crawling along and just about makes it over the line.
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