In 1944, seven German soldiers survive an American attack in the front and retreat to an isolated bunker manned by an aging veteran and a young recruit. Under siege by the enemy and with little ammunition, they decide to explore the sealed underground tunnels to seek supplies and find an escape route. However, the tunnels were sealed for a reason and once opened, strange things begin to happen to the group. Have the Americans infiltrated the tunnels from the other side of the hill or is there something more sinister at work?
There is something attractive to filmmakers in linking Nazis and horror. The idea that Hitler and many of his top ranking officials had an interest in the occult (which is quite well documented), as well as the Nazi’s numerous shady top secret projects from their ‘science’ divisions to develop new superweapons to win the war, is the stuff that the media has played upon for decades now. From comics to computer games, the Nazis and horror imagery have become inseparable. This is no more evident than in the horror genre, where filmmakers since the 70s have been turning to the Germans to add a little extra hate factor to their big screen efforts. However, it’s only over recent years where the fad seems to have gone into overdrive as smattering of input with the likes of Shock Waves and Zombie Lake in the late 70s and early 80s only teased the flood that was to come.
Michael Mann’s ill-fated The Keep in 1983 proved to be more of an arthouse horror dream than a straight-up frightener but that hasn’t stopped director Rob Green from trying a similar set-up in The Bunker, involving a bunch of German soldiers facing a supernatural threat inside some ominous structure. However, the film falls into almost the exact same pitfalls as The Keep did many years ago. Despite the obviously small budget, the production design team work wonders with the atmospheric and claustrophobic setting. The bunker itself is dingy, dimly-lit, full of lifeless grey and black and the cinematography down in the tunnels is superb. You get the feeling that you are deep underground and you never quite know what is lurking a little further along or around the corner.
This is where The Bunker’s problems began to appear. We never really quite know or understand just what is/was in those tunnels. The antagonist is never identified and the sketchy nature of the threat that the soldiers face is rather lazy writing. Is it something supernatural that they have awakened? Are they actually dead and this is just some version of Hell? Is it ghosts? Zombies? Have one of their number gone insane? Hints are given throughout that there is some bigger story arc going on here about some indiscretion that the soldiers have committed but it’s largely irrelevant to the supernatural stuff in the bunker itself. The set-up from the early part of the film just peters away as the script doesn’t really know a sensible way out of the solution. Instead, the film just opts for a load of wishy-washy sequences where the camera’s main friends are flashing lights, the smoke machine, loud noises and skeleton props. The creeping dread that The Bunker does so well to manifest at the start deserved to have a stronger conclusion than this cheap effects malarkey and generic man versus man showdown.
It’s frustrating because the film really kicks on with the psychological tension during the first half of the film, as these battle-weary soldiers begin to turn on each other for what has happened outside and what their plans are going forward. The decent cast of British character actors does well with the sketchy material they’ve been given. Jason Flemyng, Jack Davenport, Eddie Marsan and Charley Boorman are all decent in their roles. Marsan, in particular, is rather enjoyable to watch as the nervous Kreuzmann who appears to have a mental breakdown – his simpleton expressions really convey a sense of loss, both with his friends dying but also of the fact he’s died a little bit inside his head too. I’ve seen a lot of comments moaning about the use of British actors to play Germans but I don’t care to be honesty – despite the varying accents on show from all across the British Isles, you still buy these soldiers as Germans. Just suspend a bit of belief for a bit!
In many respects, The Bunker plays out like a haunted house attraction at a theme park – lots of flashy visuals and sense of anything could happen at any time. But then at the end, it’s all for show and you realise that there was no real substance to your fear. As it stands, The Bunker isn’t totally without merit but the clearly-rushed screenplay just cries out to have had more time to polish the edges, give the story some real meat and work out just what the Germans were meant to be fighting.