(Please Note: This review was written before Jeepers Creepers director Victor Salva became attached to the script. Salva is now in the rewriting process with the intention to direct The Watch himself.)
In the wake of director Jonathan Liebesman’s success with Darkness Falls (which raked in a healthy $12 million in its opening weekend), New Line Cinema snatched the fledgling talent up to bring the World War II horror/action film The Watch to the big screen. An ambitious project, I gotta say, for a director with one Hollywood film under his belt. It is an often-effective chiller with a lot of scope and a price tag in the $25 to 30 million range. I’m no producer by any means, but based off of the draft of The Watch> I’ve recently read, this budget figure came to mind. If I’m remotely close, Liebesman’s got a bigger picture to deal when compared to the $11-12 million budget of Darkness Falls. Let’s hope he can handle it.
While I can’t deliver a traditional script review for The Watch (it’s out of my hands for a re-read and reference), I can give you oh-so-faithful readers a little bit of a plot shakedown. Essentially, it’s a supernatural mixture of Saving Private Ryan and The Dirty Dozen. Set during the harsh winter of World War II, the script opens with a black mass of sorts, held by a few of those really nasty Nazis – you know the kind: more evil than evil, the kind who would keep tight company with the likes of Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS and Gabriel Byrne’s character from The Keep. When the ceremony goes awry, the Nazis are killed, their bodies forming a circle, waiting to be frosted over. Cut to our hero. A dedicated soldier, with his own demons to battle, forced to piece together a team to take out a bridge that the enemy can use to cross over and turn the tide of the war. You know what that means: a whole lot of personalities are brought into the picture. So, we get the soldier from New York, the wise-ass, the cynic…you get the idea. As the film progresses, and they venture into enemy territory, clues that reveal things aren’t right are found in the snow. Namely a circle of dead Nazis.
Here’s where we get all supernatural.
Turns out, the Nazi bastards – who, as cinema history has taught us, like to dabble in the black arts – have summoned forth the demon Abadon (the script’s original title) who’ll do anything to make sure the war doesn’t end. This is not a flesh and blood beastie either. This thing works Evil Dead-style and possesses you…after you’re dead. With an endless wasteland of war-ravaged bodies in his midst, Abadon can hop in and out of any body it wishes. Hence the Thing-like paranoia that washes over our band of brothers when they realize what they’re up against.
You can’t help but get a very familiar feeling reading the script. There are some strong characters and great gore-moments (namely, one involving the demon, his current human body that’s been blown in two, and a dead deer), but you’ve seen a lot of it before. Take, for instance, a moment in which our men are face-to-face with the demon in the body of a German. Trapped in a dilapidated farmhouse, the possessed German corpse retreats from gunpoint by literally crawling up the walls to the ceiling and out a hole in the roof. It’s a twist that might’ve shocked someone who hasn’t seen The Mummy or Blade II, amongst countless other CGI horror fests – but to genre fans like you or I, it’s old hat. Also, the chemistry of our squad doesn’t gel for me either. For one, there’s just way too many guys. Every page feels clustered with personalities you can’t keep track of, and when you’re trying to build empathy for each soldier before he dies, it’s just a difficult task.
The draft of The Watch that I read needs a rewrite. It needs to be injected with some freshness. Something we’ve never seen before from this bizarre genre amalgamation. While, yes, war is an awful and horrifying thing, it’s not often we get sprawling supernatural war flicks. From what I understand, the script’s been sitting around New Line for years being written and re-written by various screenwriters – this information could be wrong. As it stands, writers John Claflin and Daniel Zelman are being credited to the script with more rewrites on the way.
Now, I’m not saying I don’t want to see the film get made. In the right hands, it could be beautiful. A wintry horror tale giving us a stark contrast of visuals involving gore and snow – could be cool. But there’s a lot of action in it and in Liebesman’s hands – who’s proven that he’s still shaky with sequences of chaos – things could get messy.
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