My notes on the British war-horror movie.
In Afghanistan in 2014, a five-strong British army unit – due for rotation home at the end of the day – come upon an abandoned 19th century fortress built by the British in a previous Afghan War. Inside, they discover an arms cache and a coffin filled with American dollars … they also have encounters with smoke demons and a briefly-glimpsed nosferatish fiend, and seem to have strayed into a zone where weird phenomena exacerbate habitual paranoias and they turn on each other.
Writer-director Louis Melville adds to the surprisingly extensive list of squaddie horror films with another tale of a cut-off unit overwhelmed by supernatural forces but takes a reasonably fresh approach by assembling the film from the five soldiers’ individual head-cam streams, which sometimes overlap each other – when officer Pawlo (Tom Ainsley) jokes with sergeant Ollie (Ian Virgo) about killing the others and taking the money, he is partially overheard by dedicated Mo (Valmike Rampersad), who reports back to the panicky, avaricious Swiftee (Ryan McParland) without quite knowing how serious the threat is. Meanwhile, Conway (Sally Day) reports that she has seen Swiftee hanging and burning … though he’s walking around alive. Mo disappears on a trek outside and turns up inside a body bag in the coffin where the cash stash has been found. It’s never quite clear what the purpose of the mission is, and everyone falls to speculating and panicking as they run about the impressive corridors (the location – which I’ll wager isn’t in Afghanistan – is terrific) in the murk. The ending is at once obscure and guessable.
As a found footage film, this slightly defuses its effect by continually (and confusingly) cutting between five viewpoints – even as the spatial and perhaps temporal dislocations the unit experience add to the confusion of what’s happening to whom. Though the cast are good and some of the soldier talk credible – the men talk about their unseen enemy ‘Terry the T’ and are spooked by Tony Blair masks lying about the place – the characters are all on the grating side, with Day especially stuck with whiny panicky Blair Witchy ranting that makes Conway hard to put up with for very long. This has a lot of atmosphere, several decent scares and some imaginative patches going for it, but feels a bit too much like a riff on The Outpost, The Bunker, Ni ciel ni la terre, Deathwatch and too many others. Nice to see a revival of the British war film tradition whereby a single unit has accents from all over the isles – with McParland’s Ulster and Virgo’s Welsh especially vivid – so the identically-camouflaged squaddies seen exclusively in the gloom are readily identifiable.
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