Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Outpost

2008
Dir. Steve Barker

In a nameless war-torn eastern European town, mysterious businessman Hunt (Julian Wadham) hires ex-marine DC (Ray Stevenson) to recruit a team of ex-soldiers to protect him on a somewhat risky journey into deepest, darkest, undisclosed ‘eastern Europe.’ His dubious plans are to scope out an old military bunker.
The hard-as-nails gang of cynical, battle-worn veterans and mercenaries (It’s Tyres from Spaced!! And the guy from the Pot Noodle adverts!!) are rather unsavoury to say the least, and assume that their shifty employer is in search of buried Nazi gold. Once at the outpost however, the men make a horrific discovery that turns their entire mission on its head and pits them against a force of unimaginable, and apparently supernatural, evil.

Outpost is the latest military themed horror film in a sub-genre that includes The Keep (1983), Deathwatch (2002), The Bunker (2001), Shock Waves (1977) and R-Point (2004). It is a concept that appears to be infinitely more interesting and provocative than it has been successful. These films usually follow a similar formula: an isolated group of soldiers involved in ‘routine’ war-making/training operations that are interrupted by a supernatural and/or malevolent force. The ‘war as hell’ slant is played out until bleak conclusions reveal the source and raison d’ĂȘtre of the evil force. But can anything be more terrifying than war itself? These films admirably set out to convince us otherwise, with usually mixed results.
While Outpost isn’t strictly a war-horror film - its more closely aligned with Dog Soldiers (2002) or Predator (1987), its imagery and iconography certainly evoke memories of those other films.

Indeed, one of the most striking elements of Outpost is its visual effectiveness. The creepy, claustrophobic setting is minimally lit and contains long dark corridors that stretch off into pitch darkness, and corners, around which anything could be lurking, waiting to pounce…
A number of haunting and commanding images are splattered throughout, including the backlit spectral soldiers wandering out of the fog-draped forest and a dank room with its corners cluttered with corpses. Every shot seems meticulously designed to induce shudders and crank up the tension. Another utterly horrifying moment occurs when one of the men discovers that one of the ‘corpses’ he has been locked in with, is not as dead as he thought. The sight of Johnny Meres as the ghost-faced, blank-eyed Nazi general, is truly shocking and most unsettling. Unfortunately there isn’t enough in the story, or indeed the characters, to enhance this tension and a reliance on imagery alone simply bleeds into style over substance.

Tension is defused further by the rather unlikable characters, who, despite attempts by director Barker and writer Rae Brunton’s sparse script to flesh them out, are difficult to tell apart. With such a moody and sinister location, it is a shame that the story can’t match the setting and events soon disintegrate into clichĂ© and any pathos evoked simply evaporates.

The zombie/ghost Nazis, when they finally put in an appearance, are incredibly effective. In the darkness it is only possible to make out their unmistakable uniforms; their faces remain concealed by the featureless dark. Another device deployed, seemingly to create effective jump moments and nothing else, is the fact that these figures can teleport and re-materialize anywhere. Usually behind one of the mercenaries. It is not made clear if they are actually zombies. Or ghosts. Or both. Still, the sight of them is enough to induce all sorts of night-terrors.



Some attempts are made to explain the origins of these shadowy foes. As it turns out, Hunt was never after Nazi gold, but a secret weapon that the Germans were developing during the war to enable their victory. Flashbacks depict horrific experiments carried out on German soldiers in an attempt to create ‘Super-Soldiers’, incapable of being killed: the ultimate killing machines.

Inevitably the cast are whittled down to one in an increasingly gory series of murders and graphic set-pieces. The grim events march onwards to their bitterly bleak climax, in a film that will leave more than a couple of supremely creepy images lingering in your head afterwards… but unfortunately not much else. Like the spectral Nazis in Outpost, your shivers will evaporate in the light of dawn.

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