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Straight Into Darkness

Directed by Jeff Burr

Written by Jeff Burr

Starring Ryan Francis, Scott Macdonald, James Legros, Linda Thorson

Produced by Mark Hannah, Chuck Williams

Rated R

95 minutes

****

Quite possibly the best World War II film ever released is now sitting on your video store shelves. And Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Though, if they’re seeing this, they likely wish they did.

So what we have here is another in a long string of WWII films, some fantastic, and some pretty lousy. In this case, two soldiers, Losey and Deming, desert their platoon during the last days of the war and as they’re being escorted by derisive military police back to the front lines (or possibly a firing squad), they find themselves struggling across Germany in a bid for survival. Along their way, they run into a band of orphans who have, apparently, been trained as surprisingly vicious killing machines.

Now, already, I can’t help but give “Straight Into Darkness” a whole lot of credit for introducing a new and impressive new dimension into World War II filmmaking—cowardice. No one ever shows cowardice in World War II films. Nearly all of them feature some kind of superhuman heroism in the face of overwhelming odds. Any time someone gets scared in a WWII film, it’s either so temporary that you barely remember it, or some father-figure sergeant or lieutenant or what have you talks the character with the fear right out of it.

I frankly can’t recall the last time I saw a WWII movie about actual deserters, and this makes it a proverbial one in a million shot.

The fact that this movie has such an incredibly unique plot line—deserter heroes aren’t the only thing here that’s original; killer orphans are just as equally rare—alone qualifies it as a rare treat. But what’s even better is the execution.

I believe firmly that somewhere, right now, Steven Spielberg is watching this and gnashing his teeth in a mixture of awe and horror. He is screaming at the walls, asking how on earth he didn’t think of this first.

Because folks…”Band of Brothers” was good stuff, but “Straight Into Darkness” makes the brothers look like redheaded stepchildren.

The performances turned in are excellent. The constant cutaway film style—where there are constantly little flashes of events seemingly unrelated to the plot—gives the movie this marvelous disjointed feeling. And in this case, it works well; because while the film is disjointed, it’s still perfectly coherent. What this does is give you the feeling of war in all its chaotic fury, and yet still allows the narrative to be straightforward and perfectly understandable.

What’s even better is that we get to see our deserter heroes’ lives from before the war. Friends, family, horrors and triumphs alike, all are shown and add up to a perfect slice-of-life glimpse at our two characters.

You can throw all the film school jargon you like at it, but when you come right down to it, it all means one thing. “Straight Into Darkness” is damn good movie.

And by the time they start introducing the militant chapter of war orphans, well, you can tell that this sucker’s going to take some fantastically surreal twists and turns before it’s all said and done. For instance, get a real good look at the leatherfaced girl at forty nine minutes nine seconds. She shows up earlier, but you get a good look at her here. Anyway, she’s an excellent example of the surrealism we’ve got going on here. Deformed orphans, jump cuts, creepy plot—everything you could need is right here.

That’s possibly the best part about “Straight Into Darkness”—not only is it a truly unique WWII film, but it’s also a first of its kind horror movie as well. There have been WWII horror movies before, but never on this scale and this kind of quality. It’s actually almost a weird blend of “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Freakmaker.” Watching legless children bounce around on their hands and blast Nazis is truly a singular surprise.

The ending is a little bit implausible, but only a little bit. Watching ten kids, an old man, a woman and two American army regulars decimate a sixty-man detachment of Wehrmacht (as evidenced by the tank with them) is just a little farfetched, but still incredibly exciting. Poland has got to be feeling pretty bad right now (We lost to this?). Not to mention France (We surrendered to this?).

The special features include a photo gallery, a music video, audio options, a flashback sequence from Losey’s pre-war life, a short film called “Child’s Play,” a documentary called “Path Into Darkness,” director commentary, and trailers for “Stoned” and “Day of Wrath.”

All in all, “Straight Into Darkness” is a definite front-runner for the title of Best World War II Movie. High quality acting, a storyline nothing short of singular, fantastic effects work, and everything else that makes a movie choice is included right here. “Straight Into Darkness” is absolutely worth your time to rent.

Steve Anderson is a film critic who collects action figures so he can dress them up as his favorite horror villains. He lives somewhere in the United States.


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