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Deathwatch

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Death Watch (on DVD in UK/Ireland, but no sign of it in the USA) has a promising concept: a horror film set in a labyrinthine trench in World War I. The story follows British “Y Company” who go over the top to rush mindlessly at the German artillery, only to stumble out of the fog and into a huge trench that is defended by three German soldiers who seem more afraid of something that’s inside the trench. Y Company is made up of several stereotypical characters: the British Officer (Lawrence Fox) who can’t handle it under pressure, the practical sergeant (Hugo Speer) who really keeps the company together, the bible-rubbing Bradford (the always-excellent Hugh O’Connor), the vicious soldier (played with great hamminess by Andy Serkis – my precious), and the naive private (Jamie Bell).

Like a lot of films I see the potential of the movie is never fully realised. First-time director Michael J. Bassett does a decent job in the chair, but he also wrote the screenplay, which is where the film falls down. Most the actors put in solid performances, but I have to single out Hugh who was genuinely eerie, and never succumbed to the shouting-means-I’m-frightened school of acting from which Jamie Bell is a graduate with honours. The set and design is excellent: it rains most of the time, the trenches are muddy, rat-infested and creepy, especially at night. The twist of the film – which I won’t relate in case you do want to inflict this film on yourself – was obvious to me in the first five minutes of the film, and unfortunately nothing interesting was done with the premise. What it could have been was a kick-ass zombie film, but unfortunately undead Germans did not emerge from the mud and barbed wired to take their grisly revenge. The one scene where it looked like this might happen had more frisson than the rest of the film put together. Unfortunately, the film fails to deliver any major scares or suspense, and by the end you just want it over. The ending is anticlimactic and lame. The subject matter does lend itself to gruesome material, and it’s a shame that Bassett didn’t exploit it properly.

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