Deep behind enemy lines, four soldiers who are cut off from their army (Paul Mazursky, Frank Silvera, Kenneth Harp, Steve Coit) ponder their fate and their prospects of finding a route to safety.
This early Kubrick film sits in a no man’s land between Full Metal Jacket, Monos and No Man’s Land. The thematic overlap with Kubrick’s later film is obvious, even if it’s far more stripped down, taking place entirely in a forest. Like Monos the conflict is never defined, using war as a way of exploring aspects of the human psyche rather than to comment on any specific political situation. And like No Man’s Land it focuses on the impact on a small number of participants, trapped in a high-risk situation.
Through a scraping score, Kubrick builds a stark atmosphere comparable to Stalker, with violence shown to be as dehumanising to the perpetrators as victims, as even generals become traumatised by the impact of their actions. He makes superb use of the tiny production (just 15 crew members) even if his last-minute decision to add sound took the budget from $10,000 to $53,000.
His first feature film, he hasn’t yet developed the technical fluency of his later work, and clearly didn’t have the budget for hundreds of takes to get every detail right, so it’s a little rough around the edges. But this just adds to its naturalistic intensity, with excellent performance, the stand-out being Mazursky as psychotic young private Sidney. This adds up to an intense, bold and hard-hitting anti-war film.