MARCH 15, 2013
Fun fact: I actually own The Bunker because I wanted to save on parking. During my last trip home to Boston, I had parked in a garage that was pretty pricey but not TOO bad if you got a validation, but I was just meeting a friend at Dunkin Donuts which didn't offer validation (because why would you park at an expensive garage to get cheap coffee?). So I went into Newbury Comics and looked at the cheap DVDs until I found something that would work for HMAD, coming across this previously unheard of WWII based horror flick that seemed to be from England based on the cast (Eddie Marsan, Jack Davenport, Jason Flemyng, etc).
But it also had a bunch of bonus features, which meant it kept getting conveniently passed over for Netflix Instant or featureless movies over the past few months. But with the site ending soon, I figured it was a "now or never" type thing, since I bought it specifically to watch for HMAD - after all, if it was as good as Deathwatch or Below, I would have heard of it by now, right?
Alas, my assumption was correct. It was fine, but like those others (which were all in production around the same time, so I suspect no shenanigans) it leaves some things vague but certainly seems to suggest that it's the soldiers' own guilty consciences that are responsible for all the terrible things that happen, and nothing overtly supernatural. So it kind of just follows what is almost a template at this point: they get pinned down or seek refuge in a seemingly abandoned base/bunker, find evidence or a survivor of a previous thing that happened there, someone dies, accusations fly, one soldier begins exerting too much authority... there's something really off-putting about watching a movie that's supposed to be keeping you guessing and in the dark and yet knowing almost exactly how it will play out.
So I had to keep trying to forget those other movies and judge it on its own, and when I succeeded I could see that it was a pretty solid entry in this sub-genre. The terrific cast helps: in addition to Marsan, Flemyng, and Davenport (familiar character actors I quite like), there's Andrew Tiernan (who was in the recent WWII horror War of the Dead as well) as the requisite "hardass who becomes a tyrant/murderer" soldier, and some other guys I recognize as well. And whoever did the opening titles was wise enough to put them in alphabetical order, so there was no obvious hero or "He's billed at the top so he'll be around the longest" giveaways; indeed, I thought for sure Davenport was going to be the hero only for him to be one of the first to die (which bummed me out, because that guy's voice has me questioning my sexuality. Seriously, best British accent ever).
I do think they kind of tip their hat a bit too early, showing brief flashbacks throughout the film that eventually spell out what's going on - but it's pretty easy to tell from the first that they clearly participated in some pretty terrible war crimes and now it's coming back to bite them on the ass. Director Rob Green could have been a little more vague/subtle with the first couple of flashes if he didn't want us to know yet that these were not upstanding soldiers, though I suppose he might want us think that it might be the actual ghost (or a zombie) seeking revenge in the present, with my "it's always in their head" knowledge tipping the scales.
But they certainly get the atmosphere down pat; they were only in the bunker for about 5 minutes before I started feeling uneasy about it, and the confusing geography is actually a benefit, not a hindrance (I'll give Green the benefit of the doubt and say that this was intentional). There's a pretty good bit where two groups of the soldiers are firing at each other, thinking the other is the enemy Americans - it's actually perfectly plausible since the place is so hard to get a handle on. Oh, no, that wasn't a typo - the heroes here are German soldiers, thankfully not weighed down with silly accents (though the fact that they're all British makes it a bit confusing to an American - we know they're not US but it's hard to remember they're our opponents - if you miss the setup or don't recognize their uniforms, you might think it's a British force and wonder why they're scared of the Americans). I actually wish there was more of the war stuff; it's not often we see them from the German (NOT Nazi, though one seems to be OK with their practices) point of view, and it's easy for us to forget that they were just defending their country same as we were. There isn't much characterization at all, which is a bummer - it's that sort of thing that could have helped elevate this a notch or two above "Yeah, pretty good."
I overpaid for the DVD though; in addition to a terrible non-anamorphic transfer, the bonus features are pretty worthless. The making of is OK since it mostly focuses on the actors joking around in between takes (Flemyng is pretty hilarious), and again, I liked a lot of them from other, later projects so it was fun to see them in their younger days. And it has some stuff on the creation of the bunker set, and I always like that sort of thing. But the two deleted scenes wouldn't have helped the movie any, and lack any context for where they would have been in the film or why they were cut, and the trailer is pretty bland. And the commentary is a complete waste of time; apart from explaining (repeatedly) that they didn't often have time to film things the way they would have liked, most of it is simply Green or one of his partners (I couldn't tell their voices apart) saying "That's a nice shot", or saying nothing at all. They mention early on that it's been a while since they've watched the movie, but when you have three participants on a track, there's no excuse for as much silence as you have to endure here. If you absolutely loved the movie, you might find some of it interesting, but otherwise just play it over your favorite bits and hope that they say something interesting about them.
I really should take another look at Below. I haven't exactly been hiding the fact that the site will still be up and operational (just not updated daily), so it'd be a good one to do when I have time again (it's been over two years since I did a non canon review just for fun, not because I had to review a disc I was sent). I keep saying "Not as good as Below!" but it's been so long that maybe my opinion of it has become a bit inflated - I hope that's not the case. Hopefully The Bunker will get a better release someday; it's enjoyable but not good enough to put up with that hideous transfer unless you're still rocking a 4:3 TV.
What say you?