The Bunker (2001) Movie Review

I’ve always been more than a little perplexed by movies that require an exclusively American cast to use a “foreign” accent even if the entire movie is in English. I’ve always thought, “Well, if they’re speaking English and we the audience are supposed to assume that they’re speaking in their character’s native tongue, why in the world are the actors doing an ‘accent’?” To be more specific: Foreigners trying to speak English have an accent, but if you’re in a movie and supposedly speaking in your character’s native tongue even though you’re speaking English, then you wouldn’t have an accent. Get it?

Rob Green’s “The Bunker”, about World War II German soldiers seeking shelter in a forest bunker during the last days of the war, utilizes all English actors playing Germans, but no one does a silly “German accent”. The bunker that the characters seek refuge in is directly over a series of incomplete tunnels that winds their way underneath the forest. And according to one of the bunker’s residents, an old soldier name Mirus (John Carlisle), the site used to be a mass grave holding the remains of those who had died of the black plague during the Middle Ages. The new arrivals scoff at this story; that is, until strange things begin occurring in the tunnels underneath them…

“The Bunker” opens very well, with 3 Germans already in the tunnel trying to keep something unseen back. The story then shifts forward in time, with our main characters (German soldiers) escaping the American advance through the forest and finally finding shelter in the bunker, which is being manned by the elderly Mirus and the teen Neumann (Andrew Lee-Potts). If there is a hero among the Germans, I suppose it would be Baumann (Jason Flemyng), who provides the voice of reason in direct opposition to Schenke (Andrew Tiernan), a hardcore soldier who is more than a little bit unstable to begin with.

As the film moves away from its World War II setting and into its supernatural elements, it gradually becomes more and more possible that there is something in those tunnels underneath the bunker after all. Clive Dawson’s screenplay gives us brief, fragmented flashbacks into an event that had occurred during the war that may or may not be responsible for the current haunting of this particular group of soldiers. Are these sudden “haunting” the result of a past evil deeds, or just guilty conscience at work?

Director Rob Green puts the claustrophobic confines of the tunnels to good use. Green and screenwriter Dawson were obviously trying to balance the perceived supernatural happenings and the soldiers’ American paranoia. When unseen forces bang at a steel door trying to access the tunnels, we are meant to weigh rather it’s evil spirits trying to get in or, as the Germans believe, the Americans trying to gain access. Because the film never lets us see any actual ghostly specters up to this point, the viewers are just as unsure as the Germans about what is behind those doors, or at the other end of those tunnels.

Toward the end, when we do see ghostly specters slowly but surely stalking our characters through the tunnels, we are still unsure if they are real or part of the soldiers’ paranoia. Green uses slick photography to warp the character’s perspective, twisting and turning the specters to give them the impression of being figments of a frightened imagination rather than real spirits. This notion of “Is it real or is it just their imagination?” works all the way to the end, even when bones scattered across the tunnels’ only escape route seem to come alive. And yes, the word “seem” is intended.

The inherent risk of a movie that requires all of its characters to wear the same uniform is that it’s hard to tell them apart. Besides a few characters, this was the case with “The Bunker.” I knew who Baumann was mostly because he was the only voice of reason in the entire group; and Schenke made himself an individual because he’s the obvious psycho. The young Private and the old Private are also easy to tell apart, but the rest? Forget about it. Their German names, which are rarely mentioned, don’t help matters.

“The Bunker” works and achieves everything it strives for, and while the beginning seems to give away the film’s central question of reality vs. paranoia, the rest of the movie brings us back to that neverending question. Even when Green gives us visions of the ghostly specters, we’re still not entirely sure if they’re real. As a result “The Bunker” also works as a psychological thriller that keeps you guessing well after the credits roll. Sometimes no answer is the perfect answer.

Rob Green (director) / Clive Dawson (screenplay)
CAST: Charley Boorman …. Pfc. Franke
John Carlisle …. Pvt. Mirus
Jack Davenport …. LCpl. Ebert
Christopher Fairbank …. Sgt. Heydrich
Jason Flemyng …. Cpl. Baumann

Buy The Bunker on DVD