REVIEW: ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ Is A Horror Made From History

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All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front is a German Language war film available on Netflix. Set in World War 1, the movie is an adaptation of the 1929 book by Erich Maria Remarque. Directed by Edward Berger and written by Berger, Ian Stokell, and Lesley Paterson. The movie stars Daniel Brühl, Albrecht Schuch, Sebastian Hülk, Devid Striesow, and Felix Kammerer, among a large cast. The film follows a group of young teenagers joining the German Army and being sent to the front.

This is an epic that is set aside from others of a kind. The plot is unsensationalised and frank from the start, instantly depicting the brutality of the First World War. There is a cold open that feels like a premonition but is more like a passing of a mantle. The story has a heavy tone that never lifts, but I don’t think it can be anything else around a topic like this because levity can’t be found anywhere. This can make All Quiet on the Western Front a tough watch. There is more than just the soldiers; there is a political struggle between those who command the troops and those trying to create a ceasefire and end the war. It is a long film with an expansive story, and there is a progression to it. It begins by demonstrating the lies that the incoming soldiers are told and their genuine excitement going into battle. But once the cold kicks in and the mud and the bullets start flying, their devastation and fear are painful to see.

The horror of the conflict is present from the start, but those introduced get more involved in it, if they have survived that long. Berger shows the very worst that war has to offer with a particularly gristly and sadistic turn. Not to celebrate but to be honest; it is a horrific, despicable conflict. The battles are incredible, staying historically accurate whilst being imposing and dynamic. The passage of time shows the progression of battle lines and strategies whilst also staying personable to the individual soldiers. It should be highlighted that although the deaths can be hideously gory and unrelenting, it is never unrealistic. It is just an example of what could happen, and what did happen, millions of times. There is no happy ending, it’s heartbreaking and soul-destroying but there is an educational aspect to the whole film.

The cast is huge, as it needs to be on a battlefield, but the performances are superb throughout. The soldiers are all raw and powerful, varied and distinctive in their looks to help set them apart. This does not exactly help them in uniform, which is very likely an intentional decision by the director. There are times when it can be difficult to remember which one is which, especially at the beginning, but it adds to the chaos and confusion that the soldiers themselves are feeling. Kammerer, who plays the central character Paul, is notably the best of the group, but there really are no bad inclusions. They’re great at acting without any of the soldiers seeming like caricatures. They are all normal people, like in a Ken Loach film. They are boys that have to become something more than men because it’s not an environment for men either. 

All Quiet on the Western Front

On the other side of the war is the bureaucrats. Many of them do look brilliant as they are transformed into classic generals and high-ranking officials, the actors depicting their smug ambivalence to the slaughter that their pontificating and arrogance contribute towards. Perhaps the most notable inclusion in the cast for those not familiar with German film and television is Brühl. His facial expressions are terrific, and his hushed, dangerous tone is unsettling and frightening.

 

It should be highlighted that All Quiet on the Western Front is not only an adaptation of the book but also the 1930 film of the same name. That became clear to me when shots and particular scenes started mirroring in my mind. It is fascinating to see the changes in filmmaking over almost 100 years. It’s hard to call the film beautiful, but it might be better wording to call it effective. When on the battlefield, it does genuinely look like Hell on Earth. Wider aspect ratios and higher definitions than what was available in the 20s mean that more of No Man’s Land can be seen. But down in the trenches, the camera can get really close, penning the troops in and showing their misery. The advancements in cinematic technology mean that the methods of death can be much more extreme than in previous iterations of All Quiet on the Western Front, using both CGI and visual effects.

The set design, costume, and make-up departments are phenomenal and deserve the best awards. The soldiers look perpetually exhausted and starving, their clothes patched together, and they are always covered in mud. Sometimes their entire faces get engulfed in vomit, ash, or gore. Outside of the battlefield at the safest possible rear lines, it does look very pretty, and there are some lovely glimpses of untouched countryside. At night, the lighting from torches’ fire and the occasional rocket is eerie and uncomfortable.

All Quiet on the Western Front is a horror movie made from history. This is a war movie that feels more like a documentary, especially when compared to others of its kind. It is so real and so bleak, with very little room for sensationalising and Hollywood. It portrays war as the vile, world-decimating plague that it is. That was done so beautifully in the original book and movie, but bringing it to today’s world with a larger budget and better tech is just as necessary. It really is difficult to sit through; it’s not a comfortable watch. The battle scenes are terrific and epic in their scale but gruesome and unflinching. But after watching it, I don’t think I’ll be able to forget it.

All Quiet on the Western Front is available on Netflix.


All Quiet on the Western Front
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

All Quiet on the Western Front is a horror movie made from history. This is a war movie that feels more like a documentary, especially when compared to others of its kind. It is so real and so bleak, with very little room for sensationalising and Hollywood. It portrays war as the vile, world-decimating plague that it is. That was done so beautifully in the original book and movie, but bringing it to today’s world with a larger budget and better tech is just as necessary. It really is difficult to sit through; it’s not a comfortable watch. The battle scenes are terrific and epic in their scale but gruesome and unflinching. But after watching it, I don’t think I’ll be able to forget it.

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