Review: WARHUNT, World War Horror Badly Undermined By Budget
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to go wrong mixing Nazis and zombies (even better, Nazi zombies).
Alas, co-writer/director Mauro Borrelli’s World War II-set horror film, Warhunt, dashes those expectations early on, instead going in a different, far less satisfying direction. It’s not for wont of a good set-up or premise (men-on-a-mission, dropped behind enemy lines in Germany’s Black Forest), but as with everything in or out of film, it’s always about execution.
And with a budget somewhere between low and micro, Warhunt disappoints every time the story turns in the general direction of an extended set piece or action scene. Even the promise of viscera or gore fails repeatedly, a combination of said budget and an apparent lack of nerve on the part of Borrelli and his collaborators.
Despite an almost minuscule budget, Warhunt certainly doesn’t betray a lack of ambition. From the opening moments, an Army transport plane tangling with an unseen, possibly supernatural force, resulting in a crash somewhere in Germany, Borrelli wants to go big and expansive, but obviously can’t.
That plane, though, plays a pivotal part in Warhunt’s unfolding story: Led by a cigar-chomping, eyepatch-wearing, cane-carrying Mickey Rourke in full animated cartoon mode as an officer with a last name, “Johnson,” but no first first, a search-and-rescue squad sets out to find the fallen plane, any survivors (if any), and more importantly, the super-secret contents of a suitcase an occupant of said fallen plane was bringing back to Army HQ (or somewhere).
Johnson details the singularly named Walsh (Jackson Rathbone, The Last Airbender, The Twilight Saga), a scruffy special-ops type without portfolio, to the squad, presumably to guarantee the no-name soldiers sent on the search-and-rescue mission get ahold of the contents of the suitcase and do something or other with it. Not surprisingly, the squad leader, Sergeant Becker (Robert Knepper), initially rejects Walsh’s participation in the mission, but since Johnson outranks him, he does what any non-com in his position would do and goes along to avoid getting court-martialed (or worse).
With the rescue mission set, the squad ventures into seemingly unguarded enemy territory via a couple of inflatable boats, landing somewhere downriver without incident. Moments after landing, however, they encounter the first gnarly sight of many, German soldiers, executed, hung upside down, and exsanguinated. It’s enough to rattle the men under Becker’s uneasy command. An encounter with German survivors, though, leaves the Americans down one man and up one shell-shocked German prisoner (Rihards Lepers), who whispers about something dark, ancient, and supernatural haunting the forest.
To say more about the existential threat facing the American soldiers would be to arguably spoil one of Warhunt’s better ideas, but once revealed, it sends Warhunt into semi-unexpected territory (Nazi zombie-free, alas), though as with almost everything related to Warhunt, Borrelli and his collaborators fail to properly capitalize on the horror-themed ideas he introduces. It doesn’t help that outside of Becker and Walsh, Borrelli doesn’t bother to introduce the squad in any meaningful way. When individual members of the squad begin to fall victim to whatever’s dwelling in the forest, it’s hard to tell who’s missing, who’s dead, and whether we should care one way or another, especially as the endgame contains next to no surprises.
With Johnson chilling out back at Army HQ looking at maps, books, and otherwise dropping shards of exposition on his staff, it’s left to a tightly wound Becker and the furrowed-brow Walsh to figure out what’s happening, why it’s happening, and how to stop it from happening before everyone loses their lives (or worse). It’s a slow slog, especially at first, but once the squad’s non-German enemies finally show themselves, Warhunt picks up considerably.
Forcing audiences/viewers to sit through the better part of 45 minutes before anything substantial or significant happens is a big ask, though. Maybe too big of an ask, but for anyone with Herculean patience who decides to stick around past the first hour, the last twenty minutes offers more than a few rewards, up to and including a climax filled with memorably horrific, gruesomely enthralling imagery.
Warhunt is available on various Video On Demand platforms as of today (Friday, January 21).
- Mauro Borrelli
- Mauro Borrelli
- Reggie Keyohara III
- Scott Svatos
- Mickey Rourke
- Jackson Rathbone
- Robert Knepper