Those Brits are really banging out the quality horror these days, what with "28 Days Later", "Dog Soldiers" and "Shaun of the Dead" making waves all over the place. Even the Brit indies (such as the truly amusing "Freak Out") seem to be of an inordinately high quality. But the UK is, after all, the birthplace of Alfred Hitchcock and the Hammer Studios, so it's not like they're exactly NEW to the scary stuff.There's been two separate "war/horror movies" to come out of Great Britiain over the last few years. Michael Basset's Deathwatch presents a platoon of WWI British soliders who are forced to take shelter in a creaky and clearly haunted German base. Rob Green's The Bunker presents a platoon of WWII German soldiers (albeit played by Brits) who are forced to take shelter in a creaky and clearly haunted old bunker.
Both movies take their subject matter seriously, favoring atmosphere and quiet creepiness over jarring jolts or pointless attempts at humor. Both are finely-crafted and entirely enjoyable gothic ghost stories that rely on wartime stress, post-traumatic guilt and psychological sleight-of-hand to deliver the ghoulish goods.
Which one of the movies is "better" is up to the viewer, though this lifelong horror freak had a surprisingly good time with both.
The Bunker opens with a platoon of German soldiers under heavy fire. The few survivors retreat to a nearby bunker and come across the outpost's only caretakers: a withered old chap and an inexperienced teen intent on proving himself. As the American forces close in on the platoon's rather gloomy hiding place, the German soldiers reluctantly decide to pull back into the bunker's network of undeground tunnels.
Logically, this underground labyrinth was once the site of something violently horrible. It doesn't take long before the number of remaining soldiers begins to dwindle. Allies turn on one another while other chaps go starking raving bonkers. Is it just the intense nastiness of their hiding place that sparks the soldiers' dementia...or is there actually something undead and pissed-off roaming the subterannean passageways?
Aside from an ensemble cast of hard-working young Brits, The Bunker's strongest asset is, well, the bunker itself. Director Rob Green and screenwriter Clive Dawson are fully intent on creating a horror film reliant on mood and atmosphere, and the pair couldn't have chosen a better location for such aspirations. The bunker and its underground mazes lend a harsh and gritty backdrop to what's essentially a pretty familiar ghost story. There's a straight-faced matter-of-factness to this particular campfire tale that makes it all the more convincing. You don't have to tell a new story to satsify me; an old one is fine if you tell it correctly.
Call it Saving Private Ryan meets The Amityville Horror or Platoon meets Session 9...heck, call The Bunker and Deathwatch straight rip-offs of one another. (They're not.) But if you're a fan of the quiet, creepy, noises-in-the-darkness sort of horror movies, make sure you keep an eye out for The Bunker (...and Deathwatch.)Also keep an eye out for the now-more-famous faces of Charley Boorman, Jason Flemyng and Jack Davenport - though the entire is quite solid across the board.