3.5 out of 10
Release Date: 3rd August 2015 (DVD Premiere)
Director: Bill Thomas
Cast: Matthew Neal, Eve Pearson, Zachary Street, Harry Harrold, Jon Lee Pellet, Julian Farrance, Jason Marchant, Alex Bevan, Roland Bearne
Writer: Bill Thomas & Ian Thomas
Trailer: FALLEN SOLDIERS
Review by Matt Usheurrrr!
The mere fact that FALLEN SOLDIERS exists is a miracle, a victory for cheek over common sense. It is a triumph of determination, of standing up for what you believe in, of leaving your mark, of realising your dream. And as such I heartily commend it and congratulate all involved for making it.
From the perspective of people making a thing, it’s a wholly positive project.
It is the duty of the reviewer to warn, guide, and advise the viewing millions. And this is, after all, a review.
Which is my extremely long-winded way of saying I don’t think this film should have been released to a paying public. That’s not to say it’s unwatchable (like STAGGER) or even bad (like ANGEL) but, by its nature, it cannot deliver what a paying public can reasonably expect or hope to see.
Our tale is set in 1815 during the dying days of the Napoleonic Wars. Yes. Here is a film set two hundred years ago treading the same territory as epics like WATERLOO. (Wasn’t that epic so epic that no-one’s dared make a film on that scale about Napoleon since?) (Except that bit in TIME BANDITS.) (In fact let me address you directly Sir Ridley – cos I’m sure you’re reading: why haven’t you made TRAFALGAR? Or you Mr Tanter? Mr Sothcott? How about you then, the makers of FALLEN SOLDIERS?)
Anyway, here’s a no-budget historical adventure film. With zombies. Yes. Now before getting worked up it’s worth pointing out that this isn’t the first historically informed zombie movie: zombies love World War 2. And there’s a significant chance that PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES will be released before I finish writing this review (perhaps they should have delayed FALLEN SOLDIERS till that comes out and grabbed a lift on its coat-tails/petticoats?), so let’s not dismiss it as some crazy stupidly objectionable notion just yet.
Our hero (Matthew Neal) is a British soldier behind enemy lines who has discovered an unpalatable truth about the cheese-purveying frog-fancying enemy (please note I don’t condone this view, though, now I think of it, no-one actually says anything like it). He hijacks a surprisingly roomy (and presumably very well soundproofed) horse-drawn carriage containing a Frenchman and his wife, and heads for home. Having nothing better to do, he whiles away the time by recalling his adventures, which we see in flashback, and committing accidental homicide.
He tells of how he and his comrades have been on a mission, captured, escaped, captured (etc.), encountered zombies being used by the French army –froggy scumbags!, chased, captured, experimented on, got zombified/killed, escaped (not all of them), had adventures, and hijacked a roomy carriage. Eventually he runs out of flashback and we see how his quest ends, and there’s unsurprisingly a twist in store for him, and a confrontation with fate and villainy.
Our leading man, a kind of poor man’s poor man’s substitute for a Sean Bean wannabe is pretty good at mild desperation and looks suitably perturbed and determined. Meanwhile his frequent interlocutor is Eve Pearson (GANGS OF TOOTING BROADWAY), replete with obligatory heaving bosom and the sort of comedy French accent which I last heard in ‘Allo ‘Allo. Great though that accent was in the sitcom, it sits less happily in a grim nineteenth century zombie war film (she’s nowhere near as bad as the customs guard chap though). Our hero is abetted by a bald burly thug and someone who looks like a scraggy Britpop reject who keeps muddling his lines. But he keeps going, and that’s the hallmark of this insanely-conceived film.
Someone very early on should have pointed out the folly of trying to recreate the Battle of Salamanca with a cast and crew of about thirty (particularly as a lot of the cast are the crew). True, the film-makers are aware of their limitations and work round them with lots of close-ups and suggestions that we’re watching stuff happening on the fringes of the battle. They could have gotten away with it had there been not much of it, but as the film wears on, the threadbare essence of the exercise becomes more apparent. Using a flashback structure is a good move (and is also a nice nod to nineteenth century novelistic traditions and conventions) and hides a few shortcomings.
The film-makers are certainly resourceful (putting extras in masks means that you can use the same performers over and over) and know how to cover some inevitable deficiencies The cast perform entertainingly (if not always convincingly), and I like the boldness of the concept. There’s good use of locations, and the director knows how to operate in confined spaces. And there’s good, sparing use of zombie gore and grisliness. It’s very much a promising work-in-progress. But despite lots of auxiliary positives the story itself isn’t interesting enough and it runs out of steam long before the script stops.
In short this is a good statement of intent, as an example of what an imaginative team can do with no cash. But is this really a film that should be unleashed on the casual shopper? It should, by all means, be on Youtube, and they should sell it to Movies4Men or whatever the channel’s called. It should be used for showreels and festivals. It has a lot going for it. But it’s not a film for the general viewer paying a tenner for the privilege. Putting this in shops where unsuspecting innocents could stumble upon it seems wrong, particularly as the likeliest outlets are the treat yourself shelves by supermarket checkouts. Such unsuspecting purchasers, fancying ninety minutes of gory be-frocked mayhem, will be bitterly disappointed by this am-dram stuff and are unlikely to make allowances for budgetary constraints, or to appreciate just how difficult it is to get anything on screen when your budget is only slightly more than the retail price of the DVD. But I’d like to see more from this team, and I hope someone can give them a bit more cash next time.
WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?
- Eve Pearson: Gangs of Tooting Broadway