Starring: John Rhys-Davies, Rose Fellner, Tristram Summers, Paul Reynolds
Directed by: John Adams
Written by: Pete Adams
Running Time: 1 Hour and 28 Min
Reviewed by: Dan Oles
Some movies might have fared better in an earlier time.
If Soldier of War had been somehow pulled together in the eighties or earlier not only would there be a veneer of nostalgic charm to the whole thing and there might have been a bit less squeaky cleanliness to the production. Cleanliness is not conducive to the atmosphere and horror the production is clearly going for.
Not that it doesn’t try. There’s a concentrated effort to hammer in the creepy factor with thrumming, pounding music, dark woods filled with drifting mist, an abandoned bunker festooned with moulding war memorabilia, and of course lots of darting, growling monster POV shots. The acting and writing is very good, which seems to be the norm for English production. No character pulls you out of the the lean and mean horror yarn as it unravels because the delivery, the mannerisms is all very spot on. Even the children actors are believable in a starry-eyed sort of way.
And it goes without saying John Rhys-Davies gives an enthralling performance as he always does, for the little time he has on screen despite having top billing. A lot is going for Solider of War.
What constantly disturbed the experience for me is faults with contemporary filmmaking, not necessarily Soldier of War itself. This is the case of ambition muddied by improvement in technology.
In static, blaring light you can see all important details indeed, but it also makes every scene feel sterile and artificial. The gore effects, apart from a few decent practicals, are largely the same kind of typical digital plugins a modern viewer has probably seen a dozen times before. You can color correct all you want in post but if your staging is flat and lighting uniform then there will be the constant nagging sense that each sequence is a meticulously arranged set with actors rather than a natural occurrence. Back in the day the Italian masters of giallo or penniless studios with a couple of feet of film and an empty summer camp could bring the kind of visceral splattery thrills Soldier of War aims to replicate. Unfortunately a stolid approach to filmmaking prevents the film from either making an impression in the genre or even much of a blip amidst the sea of similarly generic horror direct to dvd flicks. Same issues with the VERY clear, generic sound effects that don’t seem associated with the moving images so much as they are layered on top. A zombie snuffling in the underbrush is less frightening when it sounds like it’s snorting directly into your ear with a bad head cold.
If the pacing had been tightened a bit maybe the dull kills and procedural sequences would have been more palatable with less space between them and the fun bits of banter, occasion suspenseful beat, and any scene with John Rhys Davies.
All of this, as stated, is not problems unique to Soldier of War and erring on the side of visible, focused, and well lit is probably not a horrendous crime but it is a disservice to the obvious vision of the film as a gritty, quirky slasher homage with several cantankerous heroes. It’s not unenjoyable or lacking in effort but it actually could have benefited from a more hardscrabble approach to give some edge to the premise which has some life (cough) to it not fully realized.
Anti-Hero The Motion Comic Series
Episode 1 (Watch for Free!) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmmouuBlWTk&t=49s