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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

DVD Review: The Bunker

The Bunker is an odd war film which takes place in the Hobo Woods in Vietnam in 1965. It is about a man named Tiberius (who goes by Ranger), the leader of a Special Forces unit that occupies an underground bunker. Tiberius is obsessed with finding traitors, and he sees them everywhere.

When the film opens, U.S. soldiers are silently killing the sentries outside an enemy’s building. They make their way inside, and demand to know the name of an informant. The only information they’re able to get is that it’s a girl with a tattoo on her back. There is a U.S. prisoner in the building, and we expect that the team is there to rescue him, but instead they kill him after accusing him of being weak since he allowed himself to be captured. (The soldier doesn’t really put up much of an argument, so maybe he is weak.) They cut the prisoner’s finger off, then detonate the building.

Tiberius (Christopher Bihrle) is amassing a fairly good collection of fingers, it turns out, and fingerprinting them.

Some other U.S. soldiers are leading some Vietnamese prisoners through the woods. They find a Special Forces ring, which leads to this bit of dialogue: 
      “Special forces? What the fuck are they doing here?
      “I bet it has something to do with that bunker right there.”

The soldiers split up, two of them taking the prisoners. Those two are then attacked by the Special Forces unit, who take their prisoners and their fingers. The prisoners make no sound and seem to have no reaction whatsoever to what transpired, and silently go with their new captors.

The rest of the team find their two dead men, and radio it in. They request permission to check out the bunker, but are denied. “There is no bunker, Sergeant, and no Special Forces ring.” So clearly something is up.

Another team of soldiers is sent in to find the missing Special Forces unit, and they’re attacked by that unit. Although at this point it’s really difficult to tell who is who. I mean, they’re all in U.S. army gear. When people show up, I’m not sure if we’ve seen them before, or who I should be rooting for. These are U.S. soldiers attacking U.S. soldiers. Anyway, one of them escapes and ends up in one of those tunnels, and there is a nice moment of him disarming a trip wire.

Private Peter Harwick (Shane Scaccia) is captured, and Tiberius tells him: “I’m a patriot out here in this jungle. In this bunker. There are no laws, no rules. Just survival. There are traitors around us, you see.” But if there are no laws, how can there be traitors? Clearly Tiberius is supposed to be patterned on Colonel Kurtz, Marlon Brando’s character in Apocalypse Now. But Kurtz was compelling, and there was a great build before we actually met him. Also, Tiberius has cancer, which he tells Harwick. So if it’s “Just survival,” as he said, well, Tiberius is losing. Regarding the finger-cutting and traitors, he tells Harwick that a person’s fingers let him know if he’s a traitor. “If your hands are soft and pink, you serve no purpose.” So no black traitors then, I suppose.

Well, Harwick’s fingers must be pink, for Tiberius decides to execute him. First he reads him the charges: “And you, Private Harwick, I charge you with finding us out here.” Yeah, the film is full of awful dialogue like that.

Private Schenke (Jess Weber) rescues Harwick,  as well as – for some reason – a female prisoner named Kim-Ly (Sandy Suy), who may or may not have a tattoo on her back. No one has bothered to check yet, which doesn’t seem believable. After all, the search for this informant is Tiberius’ driving force. As they escape through a tunnel, Schenke asks, “What the fuck is wrong with those Special Forces?

The film boasts no good acting performances, but the worst is by Jess Weber as Schenke. He says every line like he’s a whiny frat boy who has been forced to do a scene in front of his class and aims to prove he’s still cool by deliberately not trying. For example, when he says, “Someone’s back there,” from his tone I can’t tell if he means someone friendly is back there or someone who is going to kill them. Is he frightened? Nervous? Excited? Worried? No idea. And when he says “Shh” to Kim-Ly, he says it louder than whatever noise she had been making. And this, sadly, is the film’s hero.

There is quite a lot of pointless stuff in this film. Tiberius talks to some prisoners somewhere for a while (he loves to talk), and then makes them fight each other. So we have a useless fight scene. It’s especially pointless, as we haven’t even been introduced to these characters before (well, as far as I can tell, that is). We don’t really care about anyone in this film. Tiberius just can’t stop talking. He talks to photos about the sacrifices he’s made. But what sacrifices? And what is his purpose?

The film’s music is also a problem. There is a fight scene where every moment of contact between the two men is punched up by a single note from the score. Each kick, each hit gets a little nod from the composer. Also, if one of them bangs against a wall, the note sounds. It’s relentless, and hilarious.

By the way, the woman playing Kim-Ly can’t act either, so she and Schenke are well matched. There is what would be an emotional moment between them near the end, if either actor had emotions. One good thing, however, is that when Kim-Ly fires a gun close to Schenke, he actually reacts, holding his ears, complaining about damage to his hearing (which you almost never see in a film).

The Bunker was directed by Joe Black (who was also the editor, a co-writer, a producer and in charge of casting – so yes, this is his responsibility). The DVD was released on April 1, 2014 through Inception Media Group. The DVD includes the film’s trailer (in which its narrator actually uses the phrase “heart of darkness”).

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