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
Box office$2,270,658

Deathwatch is a 2002 British-German horror war film written and directed by M. J. Bassett (then known as Michael J. Bassett) and starring Jamie Bell, Laurence Fox, Kris Marshall, Matthew Rhys, and Andy Serkis. A lost squad of British soldiers in World War I take shelter in an abandoned enemy trench, but it proves to be no refuge as the men find themselves hunted by unseen evils.


During World War I, soldiers of the British White Company 5th Battalion under Captain Jennings charge a German trench as part of a larger assault. The young Private Shakespeare initially refuses to join the attack but is coaxed along by Sergeant Tate. Many soldiers fall to machine-gun fire, artillery strikes, and the unit becomes utterly lost in the fog.

After walking for hours, carrying Private Chevasse who has been left paraplegic, the unit comes across a complex, maze-like network of German trenches. There they find three terrified enemy soldiers, who ignore Private McNess's cries for surrender in apparent fear of something further down the trenches. Private Quinn shoots one, but McNess stops him while the second German stumbles down the trench and the third, Friedrich, surrenders. Convinced they have broken through the enemy lines, the soldiers decide to secure the trenches. They explore and find ominous signs that something has gone very wrong: rotting bodies with protruding barbed wire and German bayonets litter the ground. Compasses and watches also have stopped working. While detonating charges to close off some passages, they hear a demon-like growl and fail to notice vast amounts of blood pouring from the mud.

Later, Private Hawkstone discovers a body covered in mud, which turns out to be the second German. The German attacks him and although Hawkstone is forced to shoot, wounding him and resulting in a muddy fistfight. During the skirmish, Private Starinski also shoots and wounds the German, who falls to his knees. Quinn taunts and then scalps the man after executing him with a pistol shot to the head. Attempts to contact Allied support via a crystal radio reveal White Company was thought to have been obliterated during the assault before communications are lost.

Their first night in the trench starts off uneventfully and Corporal Fairweather treats the wounded. Starinski secludes himself to masturbate over photographs of naked women he found earlier but is distracted by strange sounds. Deeper into the trenches, 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 and Tate then find Starinski's corpse lashed to the wall with barbed wire. Suspecting that hidden German troops are responsible, the men violently interrogate Fredriech (who can also speak French, which Shakespeare understands) explains the other Germans turned on each other and that there's "evil" in the trenches.

The next morning, White Company piles up the German dead and clears the dugouts with grenades in case of any more hiding in the tunnels and caves. Phantom sounds of artillery and infantry are then heard, causing Jennings to crack under the pressure and mistakenly shoot Hawkstone in the head when he hears him coming from behind. Morale and discipline deteriorate even further, with McNess thinking of deserting. That night he is chased by an eerie red mist, hears voices, and is drenched in blood. Possessed by fear, McNess flees into no man's land only to be shot by Private Bradford. Fairweather attempts a rescue, but McNess, only able to crawl, is pursued by a moving mud mound that drags him underground. Meanwhile, Bradford, who has been found by Shakespeare in a cave, is convinced that both he and the trenches are possessed by death. He asks Shakespeare to shoot him so he will not kill others, but when the latter refuses Bradford runs off.

In the morning, Quinn crucifies Friedrich on a wooden beam in no man's land and beats him with his spiked club. In the trench, Jennings, also having gone mad, orders an inspection but hears Friedrich screaming and investigates. Oblivious to Quinn's madness, Jennings demands that he fall in, but Quinn subdues the officer and stabs him to death. Tate attacks Quinn, but during the fight gets tangled in barbed wire. Shakespeare rushes out of the trench to try and save Tate but Quinn kills him with the club. Shakespeare confronts him with a submachine gun but Quinn taunts him when he refuses to shoot. Quinn approaches the boy but is stopped by living strands of barbed wire that rise up from the mud and begin to wrap around and impale him, forcing Shakespeare to fatally shoot him.

Back in the trench, Shakespeare arms Friedrich, who has been crippled by Quinn's torture, with a rifle to defend himself and runs off to find Fairweather. He finds Chevasse who, though pale and covered in flies, appears to be able to move his legs again. However, when Shakespeare lifts up the blanket, he finds that, to his horror, rats have eaten Chevasse's legs. Shakespeare shoots him in the head to put him out of his misery. He runs off again and finds Bradford, who 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 him 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 stumbles and is sucked down into the pit. He wakes up in the cave from earlier, now full of corpses, and finds living versions of his unit eating together just as they were the first night, including himself. He flees, reaching the trenches. Friedrich, now 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 this in perfect English, and that this is why he is free to go, pointing to a ladder leading up into no man's land before seemingly vanishing. Shakespeare climbs out of the trench and leaves to an unknown fate, disappearing into the fog.

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 then gives an ominous stare before the screen fades, implying that this will all happen again.


  • Jamie Bell as Private Charlie Shakespeare. Aged 16, he lied about his age to sign up but is initially more cowardly than the other men.
  • Ruaidhri Conroy as Private Colin Chevasse, who is left paraplegic by a spine injury and has to be cared for.
  • Laurence Fox as Captain Bramwell Jennings, the unit's official commander, but is seen as "out of his depth."
  • Dean Lennox Kelly as Private Willie McNess, a Scotsman and the unit's point man.
  • Torben Liebrecht as Friedrich, a German soldier taken prisoner by White Company.
  • Kris Marshall as Private Barry Starinski, the unit's marksman.
  • Hans Matheson as Private Jack Hawkstone. He carries a harmonica, playing it to lift morale.
  • Hugh O'Conor as Private Anthony Bradford, the unit's chaplain and radio operator.
  • Matthew Rhys as Corporal "Doc" Fairweather, the unit's medic.
  • Andy Serkis as Private Thomas Quinn. He is brutal, remorseless, and eerily at home with the violence of war.
  • Hugo Speer as Sergeant David Tate. The squad XO, Tate is seen as more of a leader by the men than Jennings.
  • Mike Downey as Captain Martin Plummer
  • Pavel Tesar as Mudman


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]