Monday, October 19, 2009

Death Watch Review

I was ordering things on Amazon, as I am often doing, and I needed to get my order up to $25 (so I could get the free shipping), and I saw Death Watch sitting there in my recommendations. I had heard some good things about this movie, so I blind bought it, eagerly awaiting its arrival. It came this weekend, so I popped it in and watched it. The question is, how did I like it? First, a brief plot synopsis:

In the brutal trench fighting of the First World War, a British infantry company is separated from their regiment after a fierce battle. Attempting to return to their lines, the British soldiers discover what appears to be a bombed out German trench, abandoned except for a few dazed German soldiers. After killing most of the Germans, and taking one prisoner, the British company fortifies to hold the trench until reinforcements can arrive. Soon, however, strange things begin to happen as a sense of evil descends on the trench and the British begin turn on each other.

As always, if you don't know my criteria, here's an explanation.

Cinematography: The movie mostly takes place in the trenches of WWI, so it's pretty claustrophobic. And that's exactly what it needs to be in order to show the immediacy of the action. The movie is a lot of close shots (with a few range shots thrown in when appropriate), but that's what makes it feel so scary. Everything feels immediate and right next to you. The entire movie gives a good sense of dread and the shots at night really set a great atmosphere. The use of fog is quite effective as well, adding an almost dreamlike state to the film, which works perfectly with the subject matter. The use of shaky camera style is used a couple of times, which I didn't feel was necessary and the first battle scene felt a little forced, but it was an otherwise very well filmed flick. I give it 3.5 out of 5 for Cinematography.

Execution: You don't see a whole lot of movies based around the time of WWI, so right away I was intrigued by that. The costumes and settings make it feel like you are watching people in that era, which I appreciate a lot. The actors are all quite good, with the only remotely famous actor being Andy Serkis, who is best known for being the basis for Gollum and King Kong. But the actors all carry the film along very well, each playing the role amply. The characters are ones we have seen before (the tough, grisly soldier; the inept officer; the cowardly new recruit), but they are all engaging. Even the people you don't want to see survive keep your attention, so I give Death Watch a 4 out of 5 for Execution.

Sub-Genre Comparison: Well, there aren't a whole lot of WWI horror movies as I said before, so the movie can't really be compared to anything on that front. Death Watch is, at its core, a haunting movie, so it should really be compared to other haunted house movies. The heavy hitters in that category for me are The Shining and Event Horizon. Death Watch isn't quite as good as those movies, but there's a pretty good reason why I consider them to be the comparison points: they are two of my favorite horror movies of all time. Death Watch is definitely one of the better haunting movies I have seen recently and more than stacks up against anything of the last couple years. Death Watch receives a nice 3.5 out of 5 for Sub-Genre Comparison.

Production Value: This is not a big-budget Hollywood film. It doesn't look like one either. You can tell this movie was done with a lower budget. That being said, it does well with what it was given. The make-up effects are pretty good when used and the gore is generally well done. However, the use of CGI is pretty apparent and a little off-putting at times. That being said, the CGI wasn't terrible (and the movie is 7 years old now, so it's somewhat excusable), but the traditional effects were much more convincing and powerful. As I said before, there is a bit of gore in the film, but it is only used when necessary and is used as an effective product. It would be nice to see this movie with a bit more of a budget, but for Production Value, it earns 3 out of 5.

Scares: Finally, the all important question: was it scary? Well, as I said before, the movie is claustrophobic and shot mostly in the trenches, which right away makes it creepy. One thing that Death Watch does very effectively is set an atmosphere that makes you want to look away. It has a great creepy vibe with rats all over the place and a bunch of dead bodies everywhere. There is a scene in particular where a character finds 3 people standing at the end of a trench, unmoving. When he gets closer, the people are found to be rotting corpses encompassed in razor wire, but standing up under their own power. As the soldier investigates them, you start to cringe just thinking about the situation. It's a very effective scene in the movie. Death Watch is very good at setting tense situations, so I give it 4 out of 5 for Scares.

And the final tally is a nice 18 out of 25 for Death Watch. This would put it above average, but not a must see movie. It's a good movie that I haven't heard a lot about though, so I encourage you to go and watch it. There are some great scenes and watching Andy Serkis hit things with a club with nails sticking out of it is almost worth the price of admission in itself. I recommend this movie!

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