I find it somewhat incredible that after all these years we are still finding new and exciting stories to tell about the First and Second World War. There seemingly is no end to the acts of heroism exhibited in those trying times. In terms of movies it just seems like we are obsessed with the genre, proven by the fact that wether it be a Sam Mendes epic or a slightly lower budget J.P. Watts flick we are going to be given more than 1 or 2 war movies a year.
Its with this in mind that when it comes to a new war movie, I find myself less and less interested in the spectacle of your 1917‘s and I am more invested in the low key personal stories of the men rarely celebrated. The War Below is one such movie – a tense, personal edge of your seat story of incredible bravery in times of horror… Oh and my boy Elliot Langridge is in the mix too.
The War Below tells the story of a group of working class miners (told to be unfit for the war effort) put together by ballsy Commanding Officer “HellFire Jack”, who’s objective was to find a team that could burrow a tunnel directly under No Mans Land spanning the length across so they could plant explosives under the Germans trenches, whereby breaking the stalemate of Messines, Belgium and turning the tide of the war. Led by William Hawkins (Sam Hazeldine; Peaky Blinders) our crew are on a deadline to make it across before the brave men both young and old go over the top.
It’s clear to see why these movies are consistently landing on our shelves, they are an easy sell. However in amongst a sea of some real third rate efforts, The War Below stands head and shoulders above them; as J.P. Watts has used everything at his disposal to create an outrageously beautiful looking dark, dank and claustrophobic war flick that knows it’s limits but somehow comes out looking like a big budget epic.
The way Watts has done this is by focussing on the heroes and their story at its most basic, stripped back, level – meaning we, as an audience, can get invested. We have a core cast of five guys in Sam Hazeldine, Elliot Langridge (Max Cloud), Kris Hitchen (Sorry We Missed You), Joseph Steyne and Sam Clemmett (Cherry). Each member of our digging team plays their role spot on, which makes way for real moments of danger, tension and dare I say it horror… how these men must have felt in those situations is truly palpable, as you hold your breath with them as your heart pounds agonisingly loud in your ears. That is of course till Anne Kulonens subtle yet striking score seeps in without any forewarning. That is how good these lads are and that my friends is film making.
You can feel Hazeldine’s need to complete this mission and prove he is worth more than what higher ups have him think. Hitchens frustration of seeing his friend push himself and the team to the limit for what he believes to be a lost cause. Langridge and Clemmett as brothers who couldn’t be any different in their sense of duty, one thrown in where he doesn’t belong and the other loyal as the day is long but both men driven by the tie that binds them. Then you have Steyne who is low key keeping our team in check, I loved how subtle he played this character, his paranoia in the tunnels was echoed by myself as a viewer.
Let it be said though, The War Below had to suck you in with its engaging story, excellent camerawork, pounding score and faultless portrayals given that it’s budget was clearly a fraction of films like Dunkirk. You could not tell, it just meant when we saw the big budget explosions and what not, they were on the next level, just upping the movie at every turn. Add into the mix some outrageously well cast supporting actors and I could happily say this is the best movie in the war genre I have seen in years.
I think all these actors should be bloody proud of what they have done, set designers take a bow because this looked great. In fact let’s just say every department did their job to the letter and J.P. Watts the captain of this squad has done a quite wonderful job with The War Below.
Based on all of this and the fact that it’s hard to get me interested in this genre these days let alone keep me interested, I am going to drop a full five stars on this. I don’t claim it to be a perfect movie but what this director and his team have done on what I assume to be a healthy but fairly low budget, well I’m bloody impressed.