(Formal post title: Alex R’s review of Forbidden Ground)
For all the literature and art spurned by the First World War, no matter how belated, Forbidden Ground (the movie from 2013), must be some of the worst. All this movie amounts to is essentially a cliché of a poorly written plot, which was then subjected to messy camerawork, CGI, and awkward editing to make the whole thing even more convoluted. The movie even showcased blatant inaccuracies about the war, which made me question the research which went into its production.
For starters we should talk about the plot. Forbidden Ground centers around a small cadre of English soldiers who survive their compatriots after they are sent on an obviously vindictive and ill-planned mission to charge across no-man’s land and attack the German trenches. Somehow, the movie inspired no sympathy for the characters – in fact I’m sitting here ten minutes after watching it for a second time and I can’t remember their individual names (the only character’s name who I can think of is the protagonist’s wife, Grace.) The French commanding officer is a caricature of gay-coded “bad guy” tropes, and the German commanding officer is clearly just supposed to be evil because he looks evil as a result of a massive scar on his face; neither of these characters are convincing in any way, and neither makes me sympathize with the protagonist. On top of that, the only reason we are given to like the main character is that he has a wife at home who he misses, and the only way we know this is because he writes to her twice in the movie and carries a picture of her in his notebook. While this maybe would have worked better in a different context, it’s overdramatized here – it feels forced in its execution. Similarly, neither he nor his companions change at all over the course of the movie, they are all flat characters from beginning to end. The only person I feel anything for in the whole movie is Grace, the wife, s̵h̵e̵’̵s̵ ̵m̵a̵r̵r̵i̵e̵d̵ ̵t̵o̵ ̵s̵u̵c̵h̵ ̵a̵ ̵b̵o̵r̵i̵n̵g̵ ̵g̵u̵y̵(pretend that’s formatted with a real strikethrough) because she’s trying to get an abortion and is turned away. This is much more compelling than the primary plot of the movie, although it’s also overdramatized – the dialogue is all forced and hackneyed together. On top of all this, the resolution is unrealistic: there’s supposed to be a parallelism or an inversion of tropes in that she dies and he doesn’t, but it feels emotionless, partially because of the lack of reaction on the husband’s part: he just walks up to her grave in a little voiceover, drops a letter there, and strolls away. Not very emotional or consistant; if she was truly his reason to survive the war, I’d expect a different response.
On top of the poor writing, the production itself was really not great. There were clearly lots of CGI people, weapons, and blood splatters which really took me out of the story – it was hard not to laugh at some points. Also, whenever the characters were in a trench it was hard to tell where exactly they were; there was a weird lack of geographical understanding which made the whole movie hard to follow. This also goes for the no-man’s land; it was hard to tell the distance between the two lines of trenches because there was never any aerial shot (or anything at all) which helped to decode the landscape. Then there are the voiceovers, another element which made it hard to take Forbidden Land seriously. At a lot of points, it’s clear that the actors either didn’t say their lines correctly, or that they changed the lines in post production, so they just dubbed over the original sound with the new script, making it hard to tell who’s talking and taking the words out of sync with the actors’ mouths. All of these issues just really took me out of the content the film was trying to convey.
Perhaps worst of all though are the glaring historical inconsistencies. While there were smaller ones, like the young soldier having an bleach blond-to-ombre undercut, the big one was that the attitude on the homefront seemed totally different that what I’ve understood it to be. At one point the young soldier was talking about how he promised to his mate’s mother that he’d look after him; this promise seems wrong in that his mother would likely have been proud, or even egging her son to go to war. Grace’s attitude also felt inaccurate (along with that of her nurse), her husband was at war and I would have expected her to be more prideful as opposed to mourning. Although maybe these issues have to do more with the fact that I have no idea at what point during the war this movie takes place, not once during the movie do they give you the year – not even during the atrocious epistolary voice over sections.
In sum: Forbidden Land was a mess. It was poorly written, produced, and researched. Maybe these has to do with the fact that it was written, directed, and starred in one guy? Johan Earl, if you’re reading this, please do a better job next time; your extras were better actors than you. This movie was a poor representation of World War 1 and just bad movie as a whole.