by Mel Valentin
"The Bunker," a war drama/supernatural "thriller" directed by Rob Green (the forthcoming "Dog Soldiers: Fresh Meat," a sequel to Neil Marshallís "cult" soldiers vs. werewolves flick, "Dog Soldiers"), is a woeful, disappointing misfire that fails as both a psychological war film or as a supernatural ghost story. Poorly conceived and poorly executed, "The Bunker" is obviously hampered by a low budget that allowed for limited set building and flat, even lighting (exactly the opposite of whatís needed to create foreboding atmosphere and mood). "The Bunker" is only partially salvaged by the persuasive, grounded performances by a game, all-British cast (who make no attempt, thankfully, to sport German accents for their roles). Sadly, the underwritten material and uninspired direction lets them (and us) down.October 1944, the German-Belgian border. The German Army is steadily losing ground to the post-Normandy Allied effort. The tattered, battered remainders of a platoon of German soldiers, decimated in an ambush, retreat to the bunker of the title. Pvt. Mirus (John Carlisle), an old conscript who served during the First World War and his opposite in age and experience, Pvt. Neumann (Andrew Lee Potts) hold the bunker. The ineffective, overstressed Lt. Krupp (Simon Kunz) leads what remains of the platoon (platoons typically number around thirty soldiers). The other men include Cpl. Baumann (Jason Flemyng), a cynical, hard-bitten soldier, LCpl. Schenke (Andrew Tiernan), a pill-popping uber-patriot (and Nazi ideologue), Sgt. Heydrich (Christopher Fairbank), the gruff, semi-compassionate, non-commissioned officer, Pfc. Franke (Charley Boorman), a non-descript soldier without any distinguishing characteristics, Pfc. Kreuzmann (Eddie Marsan), the obligatory guilt- and panic-ridden soldier, and LCpl. Ebert (Jack Davenport), the cool, voice of reason most likely to become the presumptive hero. One other soldier, Pvt. Engels (Nicholas Hamnett) fails to make it to the bunker, falling within sight of the bunker to gunfire from an unseen enemy.
"Dull, derivative, ultimately forgettable straight-to-video fodder."
As the men settle uncomfortably into the bunker, night descends, followed by torrential rains that obscure visibility. The bunker is more than likely surrounded by American forces, but the unseen Americans are curiously quiet, perhaps massing for a concerted attack or searching for an alternative entry point to minimize casualties in taking the bunker. Less protected than trapped, the men begin to question the decision to remain in the bunker, awaiting reinforcements that will never come (and short on ammo). Mirus and Neumann mention the abandoned tunnels underneath the bunker and the possibility of escape. Mirus also brings up old folktales and legends of evil deeds and a supernatural presence in the tunnels. Lt. Krupp and LCpl. Schenke, of course, are all for staying in the bunker and defending it against the Americans. Krupp orders the tunnels sealed, hoping to force the wavering men to stand and fight. At least one of the men disobeys orders, forcing the other soldiers to descend into the tunnels on a search mission. The men, of course, become separated from one another, making them vulnerable to whatever lies in wait in the tunnels (e.g., their own guilt and paranoia, or the ghosts of the dead). The men get picked off, one by one.
Given the stock, underwritten characters, itís relatively straightforward to predict who lives, who dies, who goes insane, and who lets his inner sociopath loose on the other men. Does it matter? Not really, especially considering the unimaginative screenplay by Clive Dawson that makes no effort to distinguish the men from one another, give them backstories, or even properly identify them by their given names, except piecemeal. To The Bunkerís credit, however, there is at least one early surprise, story wise. The Bunker also turns on a recurring flashback that gradually reveals the details of a wartime event, for which the men share culpability, if not guilt. Unfortunately, one surprise and one halfway engaging plot turn are insufficient to redeem a pedestrian, unimaginative storyline that fails to deliver anything in the psychological drama department or, more importantly, given the box copy or cover art, any shocks, scares, or gore with one exception involving barbed wire. Whatever "real" or imagined ghosts we do see are either in plain sight or partially concealed in half-dark backgrounds (thanks to an out-of-focus camera). Either way, these ghosts are simply not scary.In short, underdeveloped ideas and poor execution fatally undermine "The Bunker's" entertainment value, let alone resulting in anything memorable or worth recommending, even for diehard fans of either genre. Viewers interested in a more successful, if still flawed, war/horror flick will be better served by renting a little seen genre effort from 2002, "Deathwatch," set during the First World War and centered on a group of British soldiers lost on the German side of the Western Front. "Deathwatch" certainly has its flaws, including underwritten characters and a plot twist or two borrowed from "The Twilight Zone," but it also has atmosphere and style to burn (and one or two creepily effective horror scenes).
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originally posted: 10/06/05 03:30:17