As the war in Ukraine rages on for another year, trench warfare is back in the public consciousness. This is the brutal, unglamorous war of attrition and stalemate, with unthinkable generational losses and wholesale slaughter at a previously unprecedented scale. It tore Europe apart from 1914-1918, and we have just concluded one year of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Technology has advanced, but once again, the way to keep your head on your shoulders is to dig down and stay low. If any war is ripe for looking through a horror movie lens, it is World War I.
Bunker, from Blue Fox Entertainment, follows the trajectory of a mixed British and American squad that the Germans in the trenches across no man’s land from them have been mysteriously abandoned. The opportunity to get what appears to be a casualty-free advance is too good a chance to pass up. They hastily assemble a small squad to investigate the situation, oblivious to the hazards lying in wait for them.
Being a War-Horror movie, you know you are going to get archetypal characters. For Bunker, our primary players are:
When they reach the opposing trenches, they are indeed deserted. The soldiers find a door, barred from the outside that leads to a tunnel system where they discover a German soldier, Karl (Luke Baines) mysteriously crucified to a wooden tunnel brace with bayonets, but still alive. The soldiers bring Karl down and attend to his wounds. But, when they attempt to leave the tunnels to go back to base camp, an artillery shell collapses their only exit, killing some of the soldiers in the explosion. The soldiers are trapped.
At this point, the horror movie kicks in. Something is clearly not right in the tunnels. Mysterious white goo drips from the ceiling. A pile of bodies is found. Eventually, something begins to affect each soldier, preying on their greatest fears, and making them turn on each other. The movie gets a bit Cronenbergian, as mechanical objects are found to be containing grotesque organic forms. Further, it also appears that a mysterious mind-controlling parasite is to blame for the odd behaviors. But it’s too late. The soldiers break down, and the parasites become secondary when the paranoia sets in.
Paranoia and what could certainly be considered PTSD become the pressure points of this story. It’s the evil of war, and it affects each soldier in different ways, but this is the moment they all fall apart. The unit brought in was a hastily assembled group who don’t all know or trust each other well, and they have been subjected to the horrors of trench warfare, now trapped in an enemy bunker.
For my money, it is Patrick Moltane’s Lt. Turner who steals the show. His rigid British stiff upper lip and strict discipline become a mania the longer he is subjected to the bunker. Though there are creature feature elements to this show, the dangers lie within the minds and the souls of the soldiers that are trapped together. It is very well executed on a psychological level. Eddie Ramos is a strong and silent type character with a good bit of charisma and is solid as the audience’s avatar protagonist. I suspect we will be seeing more of this young actor in future films.
Director Langley’s resume is that of a cinematographer, and this is where the movie shines. In what could have been a movie that hid in the darkness, the film is bathed in an amber glow of the incandescent tunnel lighting. As such, it s an immaculate presentation. So often a subterranean film like this gets lost in the shadows. This film manages to strike just the right balance to get the clarity and the mystery linked well.
If there is a comparable film, it would have to be Trench 11, which has a wormy parasite plague threatening the similarly mixed group of soldiers. I give the nod to Bunker for a more solid plot and better characters, but I have to admit liking the wormy parasites from Trench 11 a little better.
My criticisms of the film would be that I would have liked there to be a little more gristle to this presentation. WWI was a godawful mess, and the technology had allowed for deaths in the hundreds of thousands. The film felt a bit empty at times, but I understand the budget constraints of a film like this. Not every war movie can be Glory or Saving Private Ryan, but there is something viscerally powerful about piles of dead bodies and the inhumanity and carnage of modern warfare, and I would have liked to have seen that as an added layer of stress on the squad.
A fun little side bit, I thought it was a nice touch to have the credits scroll at the front of the movie, like an old vintage serial reel. Entirely appropriate given the timeline of this movie. You tend to forget that the credits used to be in front of the film before… Star Wars.
Bunker is getting a decent theatrical release in 250 theaters across the country right now, so catch this in the cinema if you can. Bunker is Rated R for violence and intensity. It is not an overly gory film, and I think is suitable for teenage horror and war film audiences.