It seems that genre pieces are dying out whilst remakes, rehashes and sequels dominate the current Hollywood trends. In order to generate a sense of originality, films are now fusing genres to create a unique spin on what were previously tired conventions. Deathwatch is certainly an interesting war film, primarily because it graphically splices itself with shocking gory horror at the blink of an eye. It's reached cinemas touted as BAFTA winner Jamie Bell's next film since the bittersweet Billy Elliott, but any young fans seeking more gratification from their favourite young cuteboy pin-up will be repelled almost instantly, as Bell has wisely moved swiftly into a more adult terrain.
The plot is the usual horror storyline, throwing a half a dozen or so characters into a small confined setting and watching sadistically as each one meets a gruesome death. In Deathwatch these characters are a group of British soldiers caught in trenches during the first World War. Stumbling upon a rotting German fort, the soldiers stand firm and await reinforcements, until a mysterious evil force starts to play havoc with the men's sense of good. Meanwhile, young sixteen-year-old recruit Charlie Shakespeare (Jamie Bell), seems to be the only soldier who notices that something strange is going on.
Deathwatch is an average horror film that is fortunate to have an excellent conclusion, which itself refreshingly doesn't retread over the usual 'ultimate twist' redemption. Indeed, the final sequences are brilliantly ambiguous, and leave a curious aftertaste with the audience. Michael J. Bassett directs his own screenplay, and obviously knows where the film is headed even if on occasions he fails to elevate the confined surroundings above a mediocre dramatic core. Bassett packs the film with enough gory technical virtuosity that you can almost forgive him for overloading the film with a gloomy décor that is often unrelenting. Hubert Taczanowski's cinematography is heavily drenched in contrast, as if washed-out shades of white and black are all that is allowed to permeate the visual ambience.
Performances are generally on the nail, particularly Jamie Bell, whose young almost virginal face as Shakespeare seems destined for a world of pain and anguish. It seems Bell is still fulfilling his early promise. Laurence Fox and Matthew Rhys also provide strong support, and My Family's Kris Marshall will always struggle to shake off his dumb 'Nick' stereotypes.
Deathwatch is one of those films in which the payoff is ultimately more satisfying than the experience of watching the film, suggesting that repeat viewings might provide a smoother ride for the audience. It's certainly a curious hybrid of two very different genres, and for the most part is very successful. Easily better than the other recent British horror/war effort Dog Soldiers, Deathwatch will certainly carve out a cult following, and for once its deserving.