So I've been on a real tear through Weird War Tales style movies as of late, the last being Deathwatch, a British horror flick set during the First World War. This follows R-Point, a K-Horror movie about Korean Marines in the Vietnam War, and Outpost, another British effort about modern-day PMC's in some unnamed Eastern European shit-hole. All three films share the same basic structure: isolated soldiers come upon some creepy place, are forced by orders to remain as the creepiness slowly turns into malevolent nastiness, and things end badly as a stark metaphor for the inhumanity of war and its warriors. Deathwatch, suprisingly, comes out as the least of the three.
Outpost has a really solid group of actors headlined by Ray Stevenson (Pullo from Rome) and Julian Wadham, neither of whom allow the silliness of the material (Nazi experiments in Einstein's Unified Field Theory create extradimensional zombie stormtroopers) to undermine their earnest performances, which bring a sense of gravitas to the B-movie proceedings. And Richard Brake adds the fun with his understated Southern psycho role, delivering the greatest quote of the film: "Fuck, we killed just about everyone else. I figured it's about time we touched gloves with some Nazis." Still the film never really escapes its inherent shlock, particularly once the main baddie starts vamping around in his SS uniform.
The actors of R-Point deliver lesser performances than those of Outpost, but the Korean film holds out its horror longer through its more subtle psychological terrors. The story is simple but well-executed: ROK Marines are dispatched to recon an area avoided by the Viet Cong in search of a missing patrol which was believed to be wiped out, and the Marines end up trapped there in a supernatural purgatory. Although the setting of Vietnam is not unique and the filmmakers' approach lifts brazenly from Apocalypse Now, using Korean characters instead of the usual American G.I. stereotypes makes it all seem more like a charming homage rather than a hackneyed rip-off. Of the three flicks, R-Point tries the hardest at making a statement about how war can make monsters of human beings, and while it never succeeds at making high art, the fact that it is trying to be more than the average Sci-Fi Pictures Original Film ultimately raises its stock from B-movie status to more of an A-minus.
Deathwatch is not a bad movie, but it lacks the strong acting of Outpost and the tight story of R-Point, and suffers in comparison. Here we see a bunch of WWI-era British soldiers go over the top during a harrowing nightime attack, which immediately cuts to them stumbling upon a near-deserted German trench in the midst of a thick daytime fog. The soldiers almost immediately start going nuts in response to a few (really too few) unnatural shocks, particularly one very religious type who abruptly goes from quoting Scripture to making crazed exposition that pretty much reveals the nature of the "horror" halfway into the movie. And once that secret is revealed, the threats (where in one case of an attack by barbed wire is quite frightening) take on much less terror. The acting is okay, but suffers from the fact that a lot of performers look alike and the characters have few differences in personality. The single exception is a blood-crazed nutjob hammed up by Andy Serkis, but all his scenery-chewing does less to inspire the tired cast than to exemplify how lackluster the whole proceedings are. Deathwatch is passable for those seeking a ghost story amid the madness of war, but if you haven't seen Outpost or R-Point, do catch either of those flicks first for a more satisfying experience.