Deathwatch (2002 film)

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Deathwatch film.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMichael J. Bassett
Produced by
Written byMichael J. Bassett
Music by
CinematographyHubert Taczanowski
Edited byAnne Sopel
Distributed byLions Gate Entertainment
Release date
  • 6 December 2002 (2002-12-06)
Running time
94 minutes
  • United Kingdom
  • Germany

Deathwatch is a 2002 British-German horror war film written and directed by M.J. Bassett and starring Jamie Bell, Laurence Fox, Kris Marshall, Matthew Rhys and Andy Serkis.


During World War I a squad of British soldiers come across a complex, maze-like network of German trenches, where they find an apparently besieged handful of terrified German soldiers, who at first ignore the cries of Private Willie McNess (Dean Lennox Kelly) to surrender in apparent terror of something else further down the trenches. Private Thomas Quinn (Andy Serkis) shoots the first and attempts to shoot the second, but McNess stops him and the German stumbles down the trench. The third, Friedrich (Torben Liebrecht), surrenders. Convinced they have broken through the enemy lines, the soldiers decide to secure the trenches. They explore them and find ominous signs that something there has gone very wrong: rotting bodies with protruding barbed wire and German bayonets litter the ground. While detonating charges to close off some passages, they hear a demon-like growl, and as they walk away fail to notice vast amounts of blood pouring from the mud.

Later, Private Jack Hawkstone (Hans Matheson) discovers a body covered in mud, leaning against the wall of the trench, it turns out to be the second German, who had escaped from earlier. As Hawkstone calls for help, the German lunges at him with a makeshift weapon and Hawkstone is forced to shoot him, wounding him and resulting in a muddy fistfight. During the skirmish, Private Barry Starinski (Kris Marshall) runs up and shoots the German, who falls to his knees. Quinn taunts and then executes him with a pistol round to the skull.

Fearful of the strange environment, they vent their rage upon the German prisoner, who is abused by everyone except Shakespeare, who becomes disgusted by the behavior, and Chevasse, who is too injured to move. During their first night, Starinski, who has isolated himself in a secluded area of the trench, is distracted by strange sounds and led deeper into the trenches, where he finds three German corpses wrapped in barbed wire in a standing position. As he shouts to alert the others, one of the corpses suddenly comes to life and ambushes him. Shakespeare finds Starinski's corpse lashed to the wall of the trench with barbed wire. Suspecting that German troops hiding in the dugouts are responsible, the men violently interrogate the prisoner who says that there's "evil" in the trenches.

Later that night, the commander, Captain Bramwell Jennings (Laurence Fox), begins to hear the sounds of artillery and an infantry attack, he stumbles into the central area of the trench, where the squad has piled the German dead into a massive mound. With his nerves on the edge, he turns and mistakenly shoots Hawkstone when he hears him coming from behind. Despite the Captain's manslaughter, the men, believing the attacks and the strange events to be perpetrated by Germans still hiding in the trench, rig and collapse sections of the trench with explosives to give them a more defensible position.

The next night more strange noises are heard and the men's morale and discipline deteriorates even further, with Quinn reaching near-homicidal insanity. After McNess is pursued by an eerie red mist and completely drenched in blood and possessed with fear, he climbs out of the trenches and runs into no-man's land, only to be shot in the leg by Private Anthony Bradford (Hugh O'Conor). A rescue attempt is made, but McNess, crawling across the ground, is pursued by a moving mud mound that drags him underground. Meanwhile, Bradford, who has been found by Shakespeare, is convinced that both he and the trenches are possessed by death. Convinced that he will kill others, he asks Shakespeare to shoot him. When the latter refuses, Bradford runs off.

In the morning, Quinn, having finally lost his sanity, crucifies the German prisoner, Friedrich, on a wooden beam in no-man's land. He then proceeds to beat him with his spiked club. In the trench, Jennings, appearing to have also lost touch with reality, hears Friedrich screaming and goes to investigate. Apparently oblivious to Quinn's madness, he demands that he fall in for an inspection, but Quinn, already in a murderous frenzy, forces Jennings to his knees before stabbing him to death with a knife. Tate attacks Quinn, and during the fight, gets tangled in the barbed wire. Shakespeare rushes out of the trench to try and save him, but is too late, and Quinn kills Tate with the club. Shakespeare confronts him with his submachine gun but Quinn taunts him when he refuses to kill him. Quinn approaches the boy but is stopped by living strands of barbed wire that rise up from the dirt and begin to wrap around and skewer him alive.

Back in the trench, Shakespeare arms Friedrich, who has been crippled by Quinn's torture, with a rifle to defend himself. He then runs off, looking for Fairweather. Finding the paralyzed Chevasse, now pale and pestered by flies, he discovers that he appears to be able to move his legs again. However, when Shakespeare lifts up the blanket, he finds, to his horror, that rats have been eating Chevasse's legs. Shakespeare shoots him in the head to put him out of his misery. He runs off again and finds the two remaining soldiers, Bradford and Fairweather. Bradford has tied Fairweather up with barbed wire, and both men plead Shakespeare to kill Bradford. Shakespeare refuses, and Bradford shoots Fairweather in the head. Shakespeare finally gives in and bayonets Bradford in the stomach before shooting him.

The soil under the German dead starts to cave in, while barbed wire blocks off every passage. Shakespeare tries to escape, but he stumbles and is sucked down into the pit. He wakes up in a dark cave filled with corpses. At the end of the cave he finds living versions of the whole group eating together just as they were the other night, including himself. He runs off, reaching the surface of the trenches. Friedrich, now capable of walking and in perfect health, appears and points his rifle at him. Shakespeare, exasperated by the apparent betrayal, shouts in both English and French that he tried to help him. Friedrich acknowledges, in perfect English, that Shakespeare was indeed the only one who helped him, and, pointing to a ladder leading up into no-man's land, tells him that it is why he is free to go. Shakespeare asks what is out there, but Friedrich has already disappeared. Shakespeare climbs out of the trench and leaves to an unknown fate, disappearing into the mist.

Some time later, another team of British soldiers arrives at the trench. Seeing Friedrich sitting idly, they shout at him to surrender, to which he complies, lifting his hands. He makes an ominous stare before the screen fades.



Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD by Fox on Jun 16, 2003. It was re-released by Live/Artisan on Jun 22, 2004 and again by Pathe on Oct 3, 2005.[1]


On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Deathwatch received an approval rating of 25% based on 8 reviews, with an average rating of 4.6/10.[2] Critics mostly praised the film's creative premise and atmosphere, but criticized its story execution and editing.

Alan Jones of The Radio Times rated the film one out of five stars, writing, "There's little to set the pulse racing, apart from some ghostly noises and a few gory effects, and Bassett's lumbering direction blasts any artistry, horror or suspense clean out of the target area."[3] Allmovie gave the film a positive review calling it "a highly crafted atmospheric creep-out that knows when to go for the jugular and when to slather on the paranoia".[4] TV Guide awarded the film 2.5/4 stars stating: "Bassett deserves half a salute for Twilight Zone-ish wallow in WWI misery, which works up some creepy atmosphere between scenes of dehumanizing combat. But the spook show element ultimately seems simultaneously ghoulish and hokey, and the pacifist moral is hammered home with blunt obviousness".[5] Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian gave the film a mixed review, praising the film's premise and direction but panned the film's dull script.[6] Nev Pierce from BBC awarded the film three out of five stars, while noting the film had its faults, Pierce called it "A creepy, authentically nasty little horror film".[7]


  1. ^ "Deathwatch (2002) - Michael J. Bassett". AllMovie. Retrieved 15 September 2015.
  2. ^ "Deathwatch (2002)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  3. ^ Jones, Alan. "Deathwatch – review". The Radio Times. Retrieved 6 November 2019.
  4. ^ Wheeler, Jeremy. "Deathwatch (2002) - Review - AllMovie". Jeremy Wheeler. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  5. ^ Pardi, Robert. "Deathwatch Review". TV Robert Pardi. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  6. ^ Bradshaw, Peter. "Deathwatch | Culture | The Guardian". The Peter Bradshaw. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  7. ^ Pierce, Nev. "BBC - Films - review - Deathwatch". British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 6 November 2019.

External links[edit]