Horror fans can never have enough WWII movies featuring Nazis and the occult…
…The two go together like peanut butter and jelly between slices of bread straight out of Hell’s cupboard. There’s something about this particular sub-genre that never grows stale, probably because most of us will never get sick of watching Nazis get torn apart by their own monstrous creations. If you’re one of those that’s always ready for more, then you might want to check out Mauro Borrelli’s Warhunt.
Written by Borrelli, Reggie Keyohara III and Scott Svatos, the 1945 set Warhunt follows a group of soldiers tasked by a military hardass played by the always excellent Mickey Rourke with tracking down a crashed plane and recovering some mysterious cargo, to be handled by his pupil, Walsh (Jackson Rathbone). The team’s leader (Robert Knepper as your stereotypical, always angry grunt) isn’t all about having Walsh join his team, but orders are orders. Once the soldiers arrive at the crash site, they discover that they’ve wandered into a forest where something supernatural is stalking them, and nothing is as it seems.
For the most part, Warhunt is your been there, done that sort of entry within the WWII horror genre. We’ve got a mystery around some sort of cargo that needs to be retrieved. Ghostly visions spurred on by the terror of war. And a group of characters who are all so similar that they blend into each other to a point where I couldn’t tell you who anyone was except our three leads and one excessively pervy asshole named Rucker (Fredrik Wagner). The script does little to engage the audience with the characters. Like soldiers in war, they are all expendable to serve a “higher” purpose (in this case, our craving for good gore), and you’ll constantly find yourself asking “who’s that?” as yet another nameless character is slaughtered by a cloud of bad CGI fog (more on that in a moment).
Needless to say, Warhunt might’ve benefitted greatly with more Mickey Rourke, who spends much too little time in this film back at base providing an exploding grenade’s worth of exposition.
Barely fleshed out characters aside, Warhunt hits all the right notes in terms of the spooky visuals. Cinematographer Eric Gustavo Petersen’s imagery is cold and grim, perfectly capturing the hopelessness of war. Grey and dreary with the on-set fog machines working overtime, there’s a sense of death that follows our characters wherever they go. Tao Liu’s gothic score matches the scenery with a sinister presence that gives Warhunt the vibe of a classic monster movie, though it’s anything but. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear these soldiers were traipsing through the forest surrounding Dracula’s Transylvanian castle. This film is soaked in a gothic atmosphere that clings to everything like the stench of rot on a battlefield. Borrelli wants us to walk a mile in these character’s shoes and the way in which ugliness and death follow them everywhere they go, and in that Warhunt is a stellar success.
Working against the eerie vibe though is an impatience from both the script and the editing. What should be one of Warhunt’s most exhilarating moments, the opening scene in which a plane is brought down by a sea of crows, is brisk and without any suspense, the common formula throughout. Too often, the editing moves at a pace that feels anxious to move on. But this is horror! I want to live in those more horrific moments until my heart is practically climbing out of my chest! Like these men who haven’t gotten laid in ages, Warhunt tends to skip the foreplay and leave you lying there unsatisfied, in disbelief that it’s already over and wanting a cigarette.
The real tragedy here is that Warhunt is actually full of fun albeit familiar ideas that it refuses to capitalize on. Taking cues from Predator (honestly, what war horror flick isn’t inspired by Predator these days?), we get dead Nazis hanging from trees, one captured Nazi who may or may not be waiting for their chance to fuck up everything, and a sinister presence picking off the cast one by one. In dealing with the occult, our soldiers are faced with your standard but well executed mindfuckery of not knowing what’s real and what isn’t, three women haunting them who aren’t quite what they seem, some grotesque body horror, and yes, a cloud of evil black smoke that could’ve used some of that Predator tech to hide its poorly rendered self.
It isn’t until the wicked final act that Warhunt throws off the shroud of mystique and transforms into a batshit insane twenty minutes of action-packed terror, stunning production design and some neat creature work (plus some A+ costuming), but it all comes a little too late to save the audience from an otherwise by the numbers script that saves too much of the best for last.
Warhunt may be a bit of a wounded soldier, but this simplistic spookfest still manages just enough charisma and eerie aesthetics to make it worth a watch for those ready to go to war for something within the Nazi occult genre.
Warhunt comes to VOD January 21st from Saban Films.
By Matt Konopka