Deathwatch is a horror film set in the First World War trenches. Released in 2002 it tells the story of nine British soldiers who find themselves stuck in an enemy trench and have to combat something even more frightening than the German army. The film sounds like it has potential but sadly fails to deliver on more than one score.
The film opens by introducing us to the main characters as they prepare to go "over the top" and charge the German trenches. Immediately the relatively small budget is apparent as they struggle to create a believable war zone and resort instead to lots of fog, no wide shots and lots of incoherent fast cuts and close-ups of explosions.
After the craziness of battle has died away we find the nine central characters ploughing their way through the mud. Eventually they find a German trench, still occupied by enemy soldiers but strangely the enemy seem to be more scared of something else than they are of the British. Captain Jennings decides they will hold the trench and the men set about reinforcing their position. Before long strange and inexplicable things begin to happen and the men are consumed by terror, locked into a battle with some disembodied evil force.
Captain Jennings is played by Laurence Fox who fits perfectly in the role of an officer toff who cares little for his men. He gives a reasonable performance. Private Charlie Shakespeare is played by Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) and he gives, without doubt, the worst performance of the film, every line is delivered in a dull monotone, his acting is nothing short of appalling and did much to destroy the reality of the situation for me. Some hope was provided in the shape of Andy Serkis as the psychotic Private Quinn but his character is simply too over the top and he really over does the acting, it´s like he is some kind of barbarian complete with animal skins and a club (seriously). The supporting cast are not really worthy of mention and do nothing to improve the movie.
As the men begin to die mysteriously they become paranoid and turn on each other, it seems some malevolent force is influencing them but the viewer is given little indication of what it might be. The first world war setting becomes secondary very quickly and the film conforms to the usual boring horror standards - i.e. the men set up in separate positions and are picked off one by one, the sensible guy who tries to leave is thwarted by one of the other idiots and everyone always arrives too late to help, instead just gaping as their friends are killed.
This is lazy film making and the main blame has to be levelled at the script and direction which are both the work of Michael J Bassett. He has little experience of film making and it shows - painfully. The script is cliched and unrealistic the direction is boring and at times confusing and the film never manages to create any tension at all. As a horror film this does not work, it is not scary and you don´t care about any of the characters.
The conclusion is so bad as to be genuinely annoying, it just doesn´t make any sense. The fact that you know what the writer/director is trying to say just highlights all the more how badly it has been done and of course the only character to get away has to be the most irritating of the bunch. I can see this working as a book or short story but to make it work as a film you have to do a lot more than this.
Overall this is a tame effort which won´t satisfy fans of horror or war films; in fact it won´t satisfy fans of films because it just doesn't deliver. The whole production feels very cheap and the performances are all very flat and uninspiring, when you combine this with the awful script and direction you are left with a poor effort which is not worth the 94 minute running time.