A team of documentary filmmakers set out to investigate the battlefield of a famous WW1 battle. Instead of historical revelations and meaningful archaeological finds, they are attacked by the cursed undead of the fallen veterans of the battle.
World War Dead: Rise of the Fallen, written and directed by Freddie Hutton-Mills and Bart Ruspoli, follows a film crew making a documentary about the First World War’s Battle of the Somme. The documentary team’s intent is to investigate the battlegrounds, trenches, tunnels, and remaining battle artifacts for historical finds.
Almost immediately, stuff gets weird. Daz (Ben Shafik), the cameraman, spots silhouetted figures walking across the horizon in the background of the first scene of the shoot. As quickly as they appear, the silhouettes disappear. A Frenchman drives up next to the film crew and without getting out of his car, warns them it is dangerous to be there. You can tell this is supposed to give you the heebie-jeebies because the aforementioned Frenchman is billed in the credits as “Strange Man.” Shortly, another disappearing figure is spotted by Marcus (Ray Panthaki), the documentary’s director.
The Battle of the Somme took place on both sides of the River Somme in France over the summer of 1916. As Dr. Brian Locke (Robert Bladen), the documentary’s co-host and resident historian explains, the battle had one of the highest tolls in human suffering, with over 1,000,000 total casualties on all sides. The film crew is focusing on the portion of the battlefield in and near the Delville Wood. This particular area was the site of the slaughter of the South African 1st Infantry Brigade, which lost over 2500 men, or 80% of its members.
At this point, all connection to actual history is jettisoned. The historian then reveals to his co-host, Emma (Wendy Glenn), that the Allied battalion and the German regiment were said to have been, “cursed by a tortured British soldier, and apparently, they all became the undead.” Later they yank someone’s chain and out from the water comes the carcass of a dead soldier with an amulet inside his ribcage. The historian discerns that the soldier is Rhodesian and a member of the South African 1st Infantry Brigade, and that the amulet is of the type, “used in the popular African practice of black magic to raise the dead.”
Despite all the weirdness, Marcus decides he wants to recreate the legendary WW1 Christmas Eve truce and soccer game … after dark … in the mist-filled haze on the edge of the woods. And who should shamble out through the dark mist? Why, WW1 soldier zombies, of course. And not just German zombies, but British and French troop zombies too! In the resulting melee, the crew flees into the battle trenches and tunnels for shelter and much chaos ensues.
Okay, okay. First, I am a fan of found footage films. And I loved Dead Snow and Dead Snow 2! So going in, I’m thinking … found footage? Pre-Nazi German zombies? What’s not to like? Well, pretty much everything.
To begin with, I give found footage films a lot of leeway. But there’s one thing I can’t stand and that’s excessive camera gyrations in the dark. There’s only so much I can take of narrow, spotlighted shots running down dark tunnels or trenches or hallways or wooded paths! A full 38 minutes of the 80-minute runtime of World War Dead fit into this description.
One of characteristics of found footage films that make them scary to me, is that you have a limited field-of-view. And that field-of-view might not be what you want to see. Fear of the unknown thing just outside my vision is far scarier to me than detailed, lingering shots of say, Bughuul, for instance. But I have to at least be able to see the field-of-view I’m being shown. Between night vision, extremely wild and jerky camera movement, narrow spotlights, out-of-focus shots, and one camera that malfunctioned periodically, I really couldn’t tell you what was going on a large part of the time. Lots of screaming, lots of zombies, but what the heck just happened?! When three of the film crew separated, I could never figure out which one they were on as the point-of-view rotated through their storylines.
The sound did nothing to help. A large portion of the dialogue was undiscernible, no matter how loud or how often I replayed it.
The film’s zombie logic didn’t work for me either. Yeah, I know. Talking about logic and justifications in a movie about the undead is a little illogical in itself. But I have to have more than, “apparently, they all became undead,” or, “the popular African practice of black magic to raise the undead.” And another thing, why did all the soldiers – French, British, German – become the undead when it was a British soldier that was tortured by the Germans that started the curse? And why were the tunnels lined by lit lanterns? Wasn’t the battle 99 years ago?
One bright spot was the acting of Wendy Glenn (You’re Next (2011), Mercy (2009)). Of the four actors with the most screen time, she was by far the most believable.
I really wanted to like this film, but I couldn’t do it. There was just too much wrong with it. I give World War Dead: Rise of the Fallen a 1 out of 5 mixed-heritage, WW1 zombies.
But that’s just me.
World War Dead: Rise of the Fallen had a UK release on DVD & Blu-ray, 4 May 2015.