This strange combination of WWI drama and horror movie isn’t terribly easy to watch, as the characters flail around in mud and blood for 95 minutes. But it’s intriguing enough to keep our interest, and it’s quite scary at times.
At the center of the ensemble is Shakespeare (Jamie Bell, aka Billy Elliot), a 16-year-old who lied about his age to go off and fight for his country. But he’s finding himself terrified by what he sees, especially when after a brutal battle the survivors of his company stumble into a nearly abandoned German trench. And soon things start getting very strange indeed, with freaky sounds, hallucinations and the suspicion that maybe something evil has taken over this trench! The idea that war is literally hell is quite intriguing, and writer-director Michael J Bassett keeps the film moving and us jumping with tight direction. The film is awash in mud, fog, rats, flies and, most irritatingly, pouring rain, which would drive anyone over the edge!
Meanwhile, the characters are just distinct enough to keep straight, while occasionally drifting into stereotypes: Hugo Speer (“The Full Monty”) is the thoughtful but tough sarge, Matthew Rhys (“The Abduction Club”) is the cynic, Hugh O’Conor (Chocolat) is the religious loon, Andy Serkis (aka Gollum) is the insane psycho, Laurence Fox (Gosford Park) is the dim-toff captain, and so on. And all play their roles with a certain amount of depth. But when you get down to it there’s not much going on here, really, beyond a by-the-books slasher movie. Yes, it’s extremely atmospheric and creepy, with a few frightening moments, but ultimately it’s not terribly original. And writer-director Bassett never makes the time and place remotely meaningful, which is a shame.