SOLDIER OF WAR
Review by Darren Gaskell
*** THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS ***
When two teenagers discover an underground military bunker in a forest, they unwittingly release something that poses a threat to everyone in the surrounding, sleepy rural area – and possibly beyond. Time for newbie plain clothes cop Unwin (Tristam Summers) and his guv Huntley (Rosie Fellner) to get on the case, especially as the unseen menace has gone on to murder a uniformed officer and one of the forensics team. Meanwhile, at a nearby old folks’ home, Jack (John Rhys-Davies) is watching the news with interest and a growing amount of worry. Is he just an old guy who’s losing his marbles or could he hold the key to solving the mystery?
It’s nice to see a horror flick set in Britain with British actors and a particularly British premise so I’ll happily admit I was willing this one to hit the heights right from the off. Unfortunately, the opening five minutes are dishearteningly clunky, the two aforementioned teenagers robbing the pre-credits set-up of any suspense it might have had by turning in stilted and unconvincing work – it has to be said, the dialogue in this sequence doesn’t help either. Do teenagers really talk like this? I’m thinking they don’t.
Anyway, Youf One is dragged unimpressively into the dark by something unknown in a shot you’ll have seen in countless other horror movies and although Youf Two succumbs to another well-worn cinema trope – blundering into the road and being hit by a speeding vehicle – this is executed rather nicely. Roll titles.
For the rest of the first act the performances and the plot pick up a little, the uniformed policewoman introduced as though she may be a central character only to be quickly and brutally bumped off. In fact, the first half hour is a festival of cop carnage as the rozzers and their support team are stabbed, decapitated and have their intestines ripped out.
The investigation, of course, gets nowhere and the higher-ranking representatives of the law tut disapprovingly from the sidelines and talk about wanting results. Yes, you can play a bit of police procedural bingo here if the mood takes you. I don’t care if the DA wants my badge. Actually, that’s not in this film.
The opening third of Soldier Of War demonstrates everything that’s right and wrong with the film as a whole. It’s the very definition of uneven, from the acting to the script to the action set-pieces to the special effects. The acting veers from really good – John Rhys-Davies, proving again what an incredibly watchable and interesting a performer he is – through to teeth-grindingly horrible (it’s the scene with the family picnic).
The special effects suffer from a similarly odd variation in quality. There’s a nasty, effective, wince-inducing bit of throat slitting following a Final Exam style attack through a car’s soft top roof but this is also the same film which contains a sequence in which someone has their bonce cut off in such an unconvincing way that it renders the moment hilarious. I mean, it’s fun on a trashy level, but I’m not sure I was supposed to be laughing my arse off at that point in time.
The script is frustratingly underdeveloped too, taking an intriguing idea but not truly running with it until the final moments, which throws in a rapid and altogether too neat resolution – although again it’s the terrific Rhys-Davies who lends a potentially daft conclusion some genuine emotional heft. The main investigators on the case have little or no backstory and are more content to bounce ‘tec clichés off each other and there’s a bumbling DI (played by Paul Reynolds who I remembered from kids’ TV show Press Gang) whose main purpose is to scoff at the theories being postulated as to who exactly is the killer.
Other characters drift in and out with varying degrees of purpose. One of the armed cops seems ready for anything. Anything, that is, but fog – he doesn’t like the way it’s developing. Some of the lines coming out of the actors’ mouths are just baffling but you know what, I got a kick out of those odd moments.
Clocking in at just 82 minutes, Soldier Of War doesn’t outstay its welcome (unless you have a very short attention span) but it’s severely lacking the suspense and scares which would have gone a long way to offsetting some of its more heavy-handed moments. It has the feel of an early genre effort from a writer/director team, setting out to be something different but ending up as another disappointingly flat frightener in a place that’s already overstuffed with similar content. Which is a real shame.