Review by Jay Bowman
Soldier of War (also known as Aux) is a Nazi zombie film with some caveats. First, there’s no actual Nazis in the film, zombie or otherwise. Rather, a long-dead British World War II soldier has returned to his hidden outpost beneath a patch of woods to kill those he believes to be invading Nazis or aiding them (which amounts to children who stumble across said outpost, police officers dressed in black, and a couple making out in a German car). Second, the zombie isn’t really a zombie. He’s more like a ghost taken physical form, sorta, and his only claims to being a zombie are having been previously dead and looking like he’d been buried at some point. But perhaps its biggest caveat is that it’s secretly a police procedural movie that happens to have an anti-Nazi zombie culprit.
Things get off to a simple start when two teenage boys go hunting in the woods. Shortly after finding a trap door beneath the brush the two discover an underground weapons cache. This unleashes Bob Pearce, a WW2 soldier still following orders despite being dead for 75 some-odd years. Said orders are simple: kill anyone who discovers the hidden outpost and kill anyone who is a Nazi. Only one of the boys manages to escape his off-camera wrath, just to get hit by a car and put in a coma. The police investigation follows, and with it the movie decides to take it easy. As more people are killed in the woods (which the police, performing pretty poorly, never seem to properly secure) we cut back and forth to John Rhys-Davies’ character Jack, a pensioner and veteran who believes he’s responsible for the (thus far) unexplained killings, and the keystone cops boldly doing their job with reluctance.
Rhys-Davies is billed as the star, and while he gives the best performance of anyone involved he doesn’t have much screen time. The actual leads are Tristam Summers and Rosie Fellner, the only detectives willing to believe that a zombie might be running amok, even if they don’t immediately know his military status of national allegiance. All three are great, but Summers and Fellner weren’t given much to work with in terms of characters. They serve to be defiant cops who are willing to follow a fantastical lead with little evidence. Given that another officer didn’t think it was worth looking into a shotgun shell found near a crime scene just because their only confirmed murder victim didn’t have any bullet wounds, that’s actually an improvement. But there’s never a feeling that there are any stakes for them except doing their jobs, and it gets dull pretty fast.
Surely then we can look upon the maybe-zombie Nazi killer for entertainment? Well, not really. While Bob carries out his undead mission to defend British freedom from German tyranny with grizzly, sometimes creative kills, the effects used for blood and guts are noticeable, to say the least. Anything that would move, be it dripping blood or entrails, is rendered in terrible CGI, which would be pretty charming itself if there were more of it or if they were going for camp value. And while the cosmetics and costume for Bob look absolutely great, he gets so little on-screen time, and so late in the film, that it feels sort of wasted. Nearly all of his action happens off screen until the finale.
On the plus side, there’s some pretty cool camera work that disorients you during appropriate times of panic, and with most of the movie taking place in the woods, sound was used to excellent effect. It’s just so weird how the story takes itself seriously, touches on some really dark character history with Jack, and does very little with it, let alone how it has been marketed. Horror fans have been here before, though they might get some “so bad it’s good” mileage out of the special effects. Gorehounds will feel cheated with the low levels of violence, zombie nuts will be left bewildered (especially during the finale), and superpatriots will be appalled by the severe lack of dead zombies. Of all the people this seems to have been intended for, I’m not sure who wins.
SOLDIER OF WAR on VOD March 3rd and DVD April 9th from Uncork’d Entertainment.