Every now and then, a well-known actor will appear in a low-budget effort for a brief period of time. But, since this person is the only recognizable name in the film, they are given top billing. Take, for example, Danny Trejo. The Machete star’s name was placed at the front of all the marketing for Voodoo Possession, a direct-to-DVD effort that only gave him about 10 minutes of screen time. Then again, none of the other actors in Voodoo Possession had the same amount of star power as Trejo and, therefore, they weren’t given top billing.
The same can kind of be said for John Rhys-Davies in Soldier of War. Although he’s given more than 10 minutes, his role isn’t really much of a lead; it’s more supporting. So, it’s not as misleading as other efforts, but it’s also another example of giving top billing to your most recognizable actor, even if he or she isn’t the one guiding the film for most of its runtime.
Soldier of War has the promise of being a great Twilight Zone-inspired feature. I half expected a narrator to appear, saying we entered another dimension. The opening credits are flashy and quickly edited to give that kind of feel, but, alas, no narrator is present. The film then takes a dive into generic horror tropes and becomes a chore to get through.
An auxiliary bunker used during World War II is discovered by two boys out in the woods. Although it appears abandoned, someone is discovered to be occupying it and captures one of the boys. The other runs away, only to be hit by a car. After the injured boy reveals the information he remembers to police, an investigation gets underway as to what is hiding in the woods. But then, each investigator gets killed in the process - albeit in unintentionally hilarious fashion.
When we first see Rhys-Davies’ character, Jack, he’s in a retirement home in front of the television. He doesn’t really get a word in during his first appearance, and then his second appearance is of him having fallen asleep while watching television. Nothing of Rhys-Davies’ performance seems promising or lead-worthy for the first half of the movie.
Once Jack recognizes who the killer is, he springs into action to help law enforcement in putting a stop to the killings. It’s here, when Rhys-Davies actually gets involved in the case, that he gives a fine performance, but nothing really great. He, like the other actors involved, have to work around a clunky script that gives them some rather atrocious dialogue, but they do what they can with it.
Some of the kills are delivered in an up-close, slow-motion shot that is accompanied by generic sound effects. I understand the budget for the film was low ($4 million, according to IMDb), but a lot of it feels like it was created for even less than that and was filmed by a bunch of friends in someone’s backyard. Some of the visuals are noticeably bad. A lot of blood that seeps out of the victims is CGI and looks gelatinous. The makeup on the lone zombie in the movie looks like someone wearing sleeves with gnarly designs on them. Although some of the facial makeup is rather effective, the rest of it looks like it was thrown on at the last minute and wasn’t given a second glance before the actor stood in front of the camera.
One thing that is misleading about Soldier of War is that its poster gives the impression that the film is another war film with zombies. Unfortunately, it is not. There is only one zombie who kills people, and it’s more of a murder mystery than anything else. This might have worked if it was trimmed down a little bit and made into an episode of some anthology series. As a movie, even with its short run time of 81 minutes, it still feels like it goes on longer than it should.
Soldier of War releases to VOD on March 3.