Movie Review by S Felce
Starring: Jamie Bell, Hugo Speer, Matthew Rhys, Andy Serkis, Laurence Fox
Director: Michael J Basset
First War World, Western Front. A battle between Allied and German troops has just started. It is madness! It’s dark and noisy, and there is absolute chaos: blood and death is everywhere. Then the poison gas is released and the crowd disperse immediately. Everything gets really quiet.
In a desert landscape there’s a handful of soldiers. They are the only survivors from Y-company and they are lost in enemy territory. They decide to take refuge in an abandoned German trench and to wait there until somebody comes to rescue them. Among them is Private Charlie Shakespeare (Jamie Bell), who is only 16 and forged his date of birth to sign up for the war. Nothing is as he hoped and he has become very insecure. He is not sure whether he can cope much longer.
Inside the trench they are constantly alerted to the presence of the enemy, hoping to be rescued and absolutely petrified of dying. However, real danger never surfaces since the enemy never arrives. All the fear comes straight from the soldiers’ minds because they are shocked and disillusioned by the war. They begin to die one by one through bizarre incidents, which are all representations of their own fears.
The director M J Basset intended to do a horror movie, and the scenes are pretty good, especially when you take into account the fact that this isn’t a high budget film. There are dead bodies coming to life again and barbed wire emerging from the ground – still one’s perception isn’t that of a scary movie. You can’t forget that these soldiers are in the First War World and have seen the most terrible things. So the viewer is left with the assumption that either this is a figment of the soldiers’ imagination or that something peculiar possesses the trench. But is it more horrifying that what it is outside the trench?
DEATHWATCH is certainly not a war movie. Except for the first scene, we don’t observe any more battles. However, the horror of the war is still extremely evident. Basset’s camera allows us to see the conditions in which they live and the problems they face. It is interesting how Basset achieves this without the need for further comments from the characters. It is clearly in the forefront all the time.
DEATHWATCH closes with an ending, which is quite ambiguous. The audience is left unsure as to whether what they have just seen is only somebody’s nightmare, or if the story is repeating itself all over again. But this is the cruel reality of war.