Thursday, 11 December 2014

Opposing Force (aka Hell Camp)


Directed by: Eric Karson
Screenplay: Gil Cowan
Starring: Tom Skerritt, Lisa Eichorn, Richard Roundtree & Anthony Zerbe

Logan (Skerrit), Casey (Eichorn) and a bunch of other elite soldiers sign up for a new intensive training programme. Said programme is only for the best of the best and to make it through is to prove what an elite survivalist and combat soldier one is. Casey is the first woman to attempt the training programme and so faces added hostility from her fellow competitors and supposed allies, them not taking too kindly to a female participating. However, Casey is more than capable of taking care of herself and eventually forms an alliance with Logan. No sooner have the soldiers been deployed on the island where the training will take place the participants are captured and held captive in island commander Becker’s  (Zerbe) stronghold. As Becker dishes out extreme torture and humiliation on his captors in an effort to break them the line between Becker’s training and his want to ultimately control his captors becomes blurred leading Logan and Casey to question whether they are truly being pushed to their limits or that their lives are now in danger. 

Opposing Force (or Hell Camp as it was called on the VHS copy this reviewer watched) was a pleasant surprise. Well a pleasant surprise in how good the film was and what a well made action drama it was but rather unpleasant in some of the torture it depicts. Balancing exploitation, serious drama and action thrills with consummate skill, Opposing Force is from a golden era when a film stuck to its guns and delivered drama, violence and thrills with no fuss and great skill. While the characters experience plenty of atrocities at the hands of the slowly unraveling Becker the film’s aim is not to solely shock. With a fine and committed cast (Skerrit, Zerbe and Richard Roundtree as Becker’s right hand man are all on excellent form) Opposing Force deftly ramps up the drama as much as the exploitation keeping the viewer guessing as to whether Becker really has unraveled or is simply committed to his cause of pushing the soldiers to their absolute limits. With strong performances, dialogue and a director knowing just when to pull back (so as not to make the violence and torture appear gloating), Opposing Force is an expertly made survival film.

Special mention should go to Lisa Eichorn for an incredibly dedicated performance as the strong willed Casey. She has to endure much humiliation, often nude (though so do the male cast) and it’s an incredibly brave performance that Eichorn sells with vigour. Kudos to the filmmakers also for not making her character a token female victim and for the fact she becomes a survivor not just because she has something to prove but because she is a strong and determined person in her own right. Before one worries that it all gets too serious there is still a good dose of jungle based action on hand (though fans of exploding huts may be disappointed as not many get, well, blown up!) and while it may be dated in certain filmmaking respects (it sometimes feels like a glorified TV-movie with added ultra violence!), Opposing Force is the true definition of a hidden gem and highly recommended.  

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