Rating 3½

Written and directed by Michael J Bassett

Starring Jamie Bell, Hugo Speer, Kris Marshall and Andy Serkis

‘Deathwatch’ is a very low budget British horror film, released into cinemas in December 2002. It was the next acting role for Jamie Bell after the success of ‘Billy Elliot’, a film I have never seen. It also stars the theatre and television actor Kris Marshall (who is probably most recognised these days via a series of TV adverts for BT), Hugo Speer and Andy Serkis, who seems to be doing an impression here of Keith Allen playing Colonel Kurtz!

The film grossed around £900,000 in the UK over a period of four weeks. It was not released into cinemas in America and eventually went straight to video in June 2004.

A small company of British soldiers go “over the top” in a suicidal night-time advance in the trenches during World War One. Some are cut down by crossfire and the rest are caught in the middle of what appears to be a mustard gas attack. When they emerge from the fog it is daytime and they come across an almost completely deserted German trench behind enemy lines.

The few remaining occupants of the trench seem to be desperately trying to warn them about something, but do so in a foreign language. The soldiers do the obvious thing in the circumstances and shoot “Johnny Foreigner” dead! They secure the trench and begin to be menaced by an unseen terror. In the process, they turn on one another. So far so ‘The Thing’.

‘Deathwatch’ has been described as a ghost story. It can also be read as an allegory for the horrors of war –- and quite frankly I cannot think of anything more horrifying than being in the trenches during the World War One, although the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki might argue otherwise. Some have suggested the film is a biblical allegory with the soldiers trapped in purgatory. It is not a by-the-numbers horror film and doesn’t need to be viewed as such. Much of what happens could be explained as hallucinations caused by the effects of the mustard gas.

The film was released to mixed and largely negative reviews, the general consensus being that the premise was interesting but the execution was a disappointment. There were also negative comments made about the quality of Jamie Bell’s acting.

I thought the film was rather creepy and I’d definitely like to see it again sometime.

“Jamie Bell gives an unremarkable performance as the young, inexperienced member of a lost patrol of English soldiers, stranded in an abandoned German trench on the Western Front in 1917. This is, in effect, the lyrical final sequence of Richard Attenborough’s Oh! What a Lovely War rendered as a horror story. By some way, its most impressive feature is the muddy, corpse-riddled, rat-infested set, the work of production designer Aleksandar Denic.”
Phillip French, The Guardian 8 December 2002


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