It takes a special kind of film to be omitted from IMDB’s database. Relegated to a lowly news item, only found after a specific Google search, and absent from all of the actors’ profiles, Nazi Dawn appears to be the sort of film everyone tries to forget they made. Indeed, there are so many flaws it would take the rest of my life to explain them.
But, for a reason I couldn’t quite fathom, the film held my attention throughout. Whether it was the intriguing story line, the pace of the action or the fact there was a naked shower scene, I don’t know; but I found myself very much into the film and for a title with more problems than a limbless sprinter, this is quite impressive. So much so, I’m actually recommending it.
The film opens with the U.S army brutally interrogating a suspected Afghan terrorist on an archaic museum ship, recomissioned as a floating Abu Ghraib. The crew, suspicious of the screams they can hear from below deck, attempt to find the source. But before they can get past the guards, the whole ship is torn apart in an impressively violent manner. Word reaches the top generals and they send an armed tac-team onto the boat, led by pensioner Colonel John Willets (Lance Henriksen). Among the survivors they find the Colonel’s son Colin Willets, the mysterious hero of the film, and thus begins a frantic search for the terrifying killer roaming the ships corridors.
It’s a promising premise for a film in the horror-slash-thriller genre. Unfortunately, this film is neither scary, nor thrilling. In fact, it opens with so many laughable problems, impossible to miss or ignore, that you’ll want to switch it off immediately. For example, the chances of the U.S. army letting an O.A.P lead a tactical team, regardless of whether his son is on board, are negligible to say the least. Similarly, the soldiers wielding the weapons do so with all the military skill of a paintballing stag-do team. In one, unbelievably moronic scene, a soldier is holding his sidearm like a child holds a water pistol, and in another, a soldier using non-combat verbal signalling looks instead like he’s playing sharades. It is so obviously apparent that the funds weren’t available to train the actors in military techniques and communication before filming, that the combat scenes are utterly incomprehensible.
Within the first 15 minutes, it’s also blisteringly clear how woeful the script is. It’s almost as though the screenwriters have vomited alphabet soup onto a piece of paper and carelessly arranged the letters into a format barely resembling a script, and then resumed their previous activity of throwing their own faeces at the walls. An engineer introducing himself after being found alive with “I go by Slab” is a particular low point. In some cases, it’s so awfully unrealistic you feel yourself uncontrollably cringing into a tight ball, rocking slowly back and forth until the talking stops.
Everything about the film’s producing and directing screams amateur. Early scenes are so frustratingly dark you can’t see a thing, so much so I had to turn the brightness up to maximum. The props are ludicrous, with the autopsy surgeon wearing a fancy dress tabard completely covered in painfully unrealistic splashes of blood, and the spirit hunters walking round with a laughably ghostbusteresque box strapped to their back. Sometimes it’s easy to forget you’re watching a film and not a ‘How to do everything wrong in a film’ guide for a media studies lecture.
Even minor elements of the story are frustrating. Huge twists to the plot are carried out with all the drama and excitement of a bus ride. For the first part of the movie, the army is convinced that the escaped terrorist is committing the atrocities on board. Yet upon capture and torture of said terrorist, the man switches inexplicably from denouncing the West as infidels and slaughterers of his people, and becomes an innocent journalist whose family are being threatened. It happens in the blink of an eye – and the army believe him instantly.
Similarly, the evil spirit behind all the carnage suddenly decides that killing everyone at once isn’t cool any more – despite the directors showing how much easier it would be – and instead he sneaks around the corridors attacking people one by one. It’s completely baffling.
However, for all of the film’s flaws – and there are so many – it somehow holds your attention for the entire 90 minutes. The story moves at a nice pace, never feeling stale or boring and, surprisingly, it’s interesting. The full explanation behind the menace is revealed through a series of actually unforeseen twists, which keep the viewer guessing until the last seconds of the picture. The acting isn’t completely terrible, and for some reason, after the shower scene, things seemed to pick up considerably.
Overall, it’s a film I can’t condone paying any money for. Everything about it is between mediocre, and downright awful. The script is horrendous, the directing, lighting and camera work terrible and the lack of military research conducted prior to filming results in laughable combat sequences. There are also so many plot holes and unremarked character reversals, that you’ll wonder what exactly is going on. Yet, despite these problems, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself completely absorbed in the film without realising or understanding why you are. If you can find it at a cheap rental store, the back of a car, or the gutter, I recommend picking it up and giving it a watch. Otherwise, thank whichever deity you worship this is 90 minutes of your life you haven’t wasted.