Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Re-enlisting Soldier of War for a Remake

I finally had a chance last weekend to watch Soldier of War. This is John Adams directorial debut, which he co-wrote with his father Peter Adams. The synopsis for the film holds the foundation for something potentially horrific. However, the film leans more towards comedy than horror.

The film opens to two young boys playing in the woods. They stumble upon a ladder that extends down into a military bunker full of spider webs and dated military gear. With the door now open, the ghost of a British World War II soldier is released. Soon, bystanders and authorities entering the forest are now dying with no sight of the killer. Jack (John Rhys-Davies), an ex-soldier turned resident of an assisted living facility, is convinced that the murderer is his ex-comrade Bob Pearce, who is still fighting to eradicate Nazi threats.

I liked the plot of this story, but it could have done more to give us well-rounded characters. Most characters were one-sided, lacking quirks or handicaps that could offered more insight into their backstories. This would have also offered viewers the chance to get attached to them. For example, Unwin (Tristam Summers), a detective working the missing persons cases, had a minute alone in the car to call his significant other and let her know that he wouldn’t be making it home anytime soon. He was still working the case with his boss Samantha Huntley (Rosie Fellner). This was the only mention of him having a relationship. Expanding it in a way that served the story could have provided him with a more dynamic presence, which may have increased our attachment to him. Also, during his conversation, he mentioned he was oblivious to Detective Huntley’s sexual orientation. She quickly answered when she got in the car, although the car windows were up and viewers had no idea how she heard. If she was that super attentive and that devoted to her job that her sex life was in question, this also could have provided a deeper connection to this case—and our connection to her. Obviously, the filmmakers could give more character insights than what I suggested; however, if budget and time were the issue, I would’ve simply loved to see them expand more on what they already offered. A hug, a kiss, a lingering stare, or some more action along these lines may have helped because a lot in this story was told, not shown—which left viewers to accept the ending mostly from preceding commentary with little action.

Also, some of the performances should’ve been altered to better engage the audience. Paul Reynolds, who played DI Reed, would make an interesting character if asked to stretch beyond the black and white personality he was given. I’m sure he has played some gray characters during his extensive filmography; however, the few films I have seen him have greatly underutilized his ability. (I will certainly look more into him.) Even here in Soldier of War, a scene at the end reveals a cop getting his leg torn in a bear trap. He screams, but is shushed by superior DI Reed to prevent the murderer from being alerted. I (or at least one of my partners) would’ve punched DI Reed in the face if he attempted to silence me while my leg is practically falling off. I wished to see Reynolds react to something like that.

Another example was when Detective Unwin, after seeing a dead body and nearly vomiting before pursuing the killer, ran into fellow police officers. The scene ended with him laughing, in what I figured was relief. But the emotion didn’t fit, especially from what we had seen from him up to this point and what he expressed after this point.

Ian Howes served as cinematographer for this production, which resembled the playfulness of his work in Goodbye Mr. Vampire. He captured a boy getting hit by a car well enough for me to cringe. However, many of the other shot choices left me wondering why there was such an immense difference from his clever work in Cleanskin with Sean Bean. For example, some of the deaths could have been better thought out, such as in a scene where a forensic specialist is stabbed. The camera simply jolts from her scream to the knife in her chest. And while I did appreciate the wide-angle shots, the long drone shots were a little much, and at the same time, not enough. They were meant to remind us of the scope of the forest the killer hides in. Yet, what we kept being fed throughout the film were constant overhead shots from the same height and angle. I would have preferred different perspectives, perhaps one with the drone racing eye-level through the woods like in Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981).

Overall, this story could be the foundation for something uniquely terrifying. I'm always in search for the next undead horror icon. So, when I read the synopsis, I jumped at the opportunity to see if Bob Pearce would fit the bill. I believe that with some more tweaks, this could work.

Let me know what you think if you’ve seen the film.

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