Armistice (originally called Warhouse) is a slow burn metaphysical/psychological Horror movie that requires a certain amount of patience. It’s basically a one-man show; everything hinges on Joseph Morgan‘s portrayal of Royal Marines Commando A.J. Budd–and it’s a difficult role to say the least.
Check out my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: The story follows Royal Marine A.J. Budd (Joseph Morgan) who awakens in a mysterious house. Trapped alone in an unchanging prison of unbreakable routines and fighting for his life against grotesque inhuman opponents, he must kill every day or die himself. As days stretch into years, the isolation and unceasing violence threaten his very soul. The only note of hope lays in the journals of a former prisoner, WWI officer Lieutenant Edward Sterling (Matt Ryan), which he discovers behind a secret wall. Sterling’s diaries help the young Marine stay alive in the forsaken prison. But what dark fate befell their author? The stories of the two men from different eras interweave as their desperation to escape the endless killing leads them both to take terrible measures.
It’s rare that a movie can be so succinctly summarized by comparison, so I simply can’t resist: Armistice is like Jacob’s Ladder meets Groundhog Day. I apologize to anyone who thinks that a comparison to Jacob’s Ladder is an automatic spoiler but, truthfully it’s something you pick up on within the film’s first 15 minutes. If you’ve seen Jacob’s Ladder, you’ll make the connection as quickly as I did and if you haven’t, it doesn’t matter anyway. But Armistice is more about the journey than the ultimate reveal; if Jacob’s Ladder is about fear of death, then Armistice is about the process of death itself (and it’s a long and arduous process–at least if you’re a soldier).
Armistice takes place in a nightmare realm of fear and tedium. The world outside the walls of the modest yet comfortable domicile ceases to exists; doors are locked, windows opaqued and shatter-proof, and the entire structure is sealed by some “unholy” means. A rotary phone and an antique radio offer nothing except vague shouts of violence buried in static; the books on the shelves are nothing but blank pages. At 9 am every morning a bell rings, announcing the arrival of a hideous, dripping creature that bleeds thick green blood. Food materializes at regular intervals, but never varies. Night falls and dawn follows and everything repeats again without deviation. Any damage done to the house the night before is repaired; the body of the previous day’s creature has vanished, making room for the new day’s monstrosity. Days and weeks become months and years and nothing changes–not even A.J.’s five-o’clock shadow.
For a while, A.J. draws comfort from the journals of the house’s previous prisoner, a WWI officer named Edward Sterling; Sterling’s saga seems an exact parallel to his own, so he finds commiseration and hope–if not for escape, then at least for understanding. But the more he learns about his predecessor, the more desperate A.J. becomes–desperate to get out, of course, but also desperate to maintain his humanity. Sterling’s ultimate fate is the film’s wicked twist.
The idea of being isolated by an unknown captor in a sensory-muted environment for years on end is reminiscent of Oldboy (I’m referring to the original, not the terrible American remake). Just as Oh Dae-su struggled to maintain a semblance of sanity, so A.J. wages war against his own progressive derangement. But this scenario only accounts for the first Act in Oldboy, whereas it’s the near-exclusive setting in Armistice. Eventually, A.J. can’t remember anything before the first day he woke up in the house, and we’re never privy to any backstory or flashbacks. It’s depressing watching A.J. struggle against a seemingly inescapable entrapment, but we also feel his frustrations. Seriously imagining oneself in this same predicament is truly terrifying. Still, the house of Armistice is more impenetrable than any maximum security prison–and even death won’t set you free.
While the creature FX’s are great (all practical) and definitely disgusting, the gore in Armistice is relatively minimal (save for one particularly nasty dissection scene). The violence happens in short, stylized bursts that never linger or deeply perturb. But meshed with the film’s claustrophobic anxieties, it’s enough to please most Horror fans (while never seriously offending the squeamish). To be clear: Armistice is not a film you watch for action-packed-suspense or monster carnage; rather, it’s a meditative Horror that taps into a shared and universal sense of dread.
Honestly, a large number of Horror aficionados would probably be bored to tears before the end of Act 1.; of those who do make it through, probably half of them will still think Armistice is boring (because if this kind of cinematic experience isn’t your cup of tea, it probably is). If you’re a fan of Joseph Morgan, then you should definitely see this film, because he’s awesome. Even when he’s a sobbing, quivering mess, he’s never annoying; you actually feel for him. He’s absolutely convincing and nails a vast spectrum of difficult, raw emotions. And if you dig slow burn, character driven thrillers, you should definitely give Armistice a spin.
Even though the set is small and the budget was clearly limited, Armistice is a surprisingly compelling film that looks great. The cinematography is smooth and skillful throughout. While the film clearly explores themes of war and killing, there’s nothing preachy or condescending here. Still, it’s a smart, often powerful experience.
Stick it out through the credits for a 10-second “stinger” that, depending on your interpretation, may answers a few questions about the nature of the house (or not?).
3 out of 5 Skull Heads.
|Directed by||Luke Massey|
|Produced by||Billy Budd
|Written by||Luke Massey
|Music by||Jonathan Fletcher|