Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Outpost II: Black Sun - review

2012 (UK)

Contains mild spoilers.

I'd been led to believe I shouldn't expect too much from director and co-writer Steve Barker's 2012 sequel to his 2008 dark Nazi horror Outpost; stick with the first, the original I was told; forget the rest, but I shouldn't have listened. I did really enjoy, if that's the right word, the first. It was gritty, real and nasty, and oozed palpable heart-thumping suspense at every corner. Full of memorable firefights, gory and gruesome deaths, as well as intelligent and coherent character design and development, it wasn't without fault, but things were easily overlooked and it came to be quite the claustrophobic and sadistic little favourite of mine. The first thing that sprang to mind coming away from this sequel is how Barker's hasn't chosen to deviate; it's just, if not more, dark and brooding and that's what made outpost tick, and constantly challenge my bowels, is all still there. Barker had fashioned quite the nightmare world, and Black Sun has every right to belong as part of it

Armed with a larger budget, though still modest if I've read right, Barker has definitely dialled the notch up though. The cat is out the bag so to speak. Following straight on from the rather fatal antics of the first, everyone from NATO through to, let's say slightly more nefarious parties, are now acutely aware of the rather small bunker in Easter Europe and the rather dangerous and intimidating trans-dimensional zombies and their plan to usher in new a thousand year Reich. Physicist Hunt and his British no-nonsense military mercenaries of the original didn't really help if we're honest. Ok, they brought the not so late Brigadeführer Götz and his army of super soldiers to the attention of the world, but in doing so somehow armed him with not only additional ambition but the ability to act on it. It's here with a rapid NATO response force desperately holding back the relentless and inevitable tide of terror that our story begins.

Black Sun is quite relentless and ambitious, opting for a more expansive story over the subtle claustrophobic driven narrative of the first. It's a film that tries to cram a lot in; perhaps a little too much with far larger scale zombie death, carnage and mayhem over-exposition and build-up pretty much from the start. I'm not complaining; though maybe Barker could have started with a little more insight as it took me longer than he probably intended to get fully behind Lena (Catherine Steadman), the Nazi war-criminal hunter and even longer, her relationship / acquaintanceship with physicist Wallace (Richard Coyle). That being said watching grand NATO skirmishes with the putrid zombie horde was truly delightful and I'm not sure I'd trade...

The rag tag gang of British soldiers that Lena and Wallace get caught up with compliment the narrative of the original whilst offering something both new, and coherent with the story as Barker is trying to tell it. Whilst they at first they come across a bit one-dimensional and peripheral to the core pair, Barker once again weaves wonders unveiling and unravelling each and every back-story, so that by the time, inevitably, this is Outpost remember, they're killed off in increasingly sadistic, brutal and pointless ways, they're looked at with appreciation and even fondness. Even the token gobby Scot who f's, blinds and threatens with the best of them eventually knocks at the friend door demanding to be cared for.

One thing Black Sun could perhaps be accused of is trying a little too hard; with maybe one of the producers or co-writer Rae Brunton (sole writer of the first) telling him to cut down on the sugar intake during filming. We're not by now talking about the whole trans-dimensional stuff and Klausener's Nazi experimentation to shift soldiers outside space and time Philadelphia Experiment style. We're talking about human machine integration; cyborgism and the ability to expand electro-magnetic-fields as a consequence, strange electric lightning ray powers (a la the Emperor from Star Wars), a strange Nazi zombie hag (Medeiros girl) and predominantly the end of the film. It doesn't all ruin the film but it does hamper it from being quite as coherent as it could; and did tend to spoil the ending. I also couldn't help notice the zombie trans-dimensional ability seemed to be more focused on invulnerability over jumping about in space-time. I can understand this provided the means for the more linear and coherent narrative which wasn't removed entirely; but the zombies of Black Sun in many instances lost that fear factor they had from literally being able to be around any corner. The introduction of EM pulses as a means to actually defeat them also detracted from that utterly undefeatable aura they had in the first. Don't get me wrong; they're still, in action, quite formidable and the nastiest group of undead psychopaths you're ever likely to see but it's just all a lot more traditional zombie; albeit stabby, stabby not bitey, bitey.

Barker has taken two of our most popular conspiracies and run with it, fashioning an unashamedly perverse alternative world history that for as prosperous as it all sounds makes for a remarkably serious, coherent and cohesive duo of films. A rare zombie film that not only embellishes and compliments its predecessor but leaves them intact as unique experiences, I can do nothing but praise. Ok, as said, the ending wasn't great and Barker could have shown better composure with pacing and some, shall we say, improved discernment over some interesting but out of place ideas, which could easily have reduced all the good work to farce. The hellish nightmare vision Barker presents though, does ultimately hold together and thoroughly entertains - 7/10.


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