The second half of 2022 has seen a surge in horror/supernatural movies and series, there are too many titles to choose from, but none of them will probably give you the chills like German war drama ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, a gut-wrenching film about countless soldiers being butchered to death because their megalomaniac masters wouldn’t concede defeat for a farcical sense of honor. Few things are as tragically terrifying as watching thousands of young men march to their deaths on an early winter morning, a cold ghostly mist surrounding them like a pall.
Based on a book by Erich Maria Remarque of the same name, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ (German film title ‘Im Westen nichts Neues’) is set during the last leg of World War I. There’s already a 1930 film on the novel, which is widely acclaimed and even won Oscars, but this reboot is just as haunting. Directed by Edward Berger, it’s filled with war politics, rhetoric, violence, gore, deaths, mangled bodies, blood… so much blood. Spurred by jingoistic speeches, thousands of eighteen year old boys excitedly line up to fight for their motherland. But the minute they find themselves in the ghastly trenches of the Western Front, ground laden with severed limbs, air ringing with gunfire, explosions… their romanticized notions of war is shattered. All that’s left is piercing pieces of fear, paranoia, despair and only a tiny hopeful speck of survival.
Felix Kammerer plays the barely 18-year-old protagonist Paul who forges his parents’ signature to enlist himself (17-year-olds could go to war if their parents allowed it), lest he miss out on the heroism and glory he expects his older peers to experience in their uniforms. Talk about signing your own execution form. There’s a scene where all these enthusiastic boys line up to collect their uniforms, when Paul gets his pair, he reports that the collar has the name tag of another soldier; an officer claims such mix-ups happen all the time and hands the shirt back after ripping the tag out. Paul is happy with the explanation and wears the uniform with pride. In reality, Germany was losing so many men and supplies, they simply washed and stitched up uniforms of the fallen to hand out to new unsuspecting recruits.
The cinematography is stunning, from scenic shots of the French countryside to the blackened bloodied battle grounds, war-torn regions are captured in all their shades, from the few untainted patches, to ruined terrains filled with rotting remains of those who succumbed. And even though the non-combat scenes are sparse, they serve to show the juxtaposition between the starving exhausted soldiers and the generals who sit in comfy war-rooms with tea, croissants and wine, far removed from the violence, yet getting to decide the fate of millions.
‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ does a better job at hammering the atrocious futility of war than Sam Mendes’ 1917 (comparing it because of its critical acclaim). The former doesn’t dwell on romances, it doesn’t dwell on civilian life, and it sure as hell doesn’t dwell upon any niceties. Just like the soldiers on the front had no respite from the constant gunfire and fear of death, the film focuses on their plight and the rare moments of respite they can steal when not killing or being killed. The background score is sombre and sounds like a knell at opportune times. It was completely anxiety inducing, horrifying, but worth the watch.
It’s a 8/10 from me. You can stream it on Netflix.
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