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DVD Movie Review: Neither Heaven Nor EarthBy devidise At 07.03.2018 22:42

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Neither Heaven Nor Earth (UK Rating: 12)

Tucked away in the Afghani mountains, the humble tale of Neither Heaven Nor Earth - on DVD now, via Thunderbird Releasing, in French language with English subtitles - begins with the disappearance of a dog. Belonging to a platoon of army men stationed in the mountainous region, the dog goes missing one day. It's clear that it could have been pretty much anything, from a misstep while walking around the area, to a travelling insurgent, which led to the dog's disappearance. It's not the end of the world, however, until some of the men themselves disappear.

The commander of the group needs to know where these men went, obviously. The problem is how far he is willing to go to uncover the truth. Director Clement Cogitore brings the world Neither Heaven Nor Earth (originally known as The Wakhan Front), and it has all the trappings of a supernatural thriller. Mixing it together with the daily interactions with the local Afghani people, as well as trying to mix in some of the local lore, works well enough, and the film is most effective when watching the commander, Captain Antares (played brilliantly by  Jérémie Renier), struggling to cope with the idea of the disappearances.

Antares makes it clear early on that he's never left so much as T-Shirt behind, so he will not fail to at least locate the remains of the missing soldiers. However, as time goes on, it becomes clear it would be a win just to get out of this alive. While the central plot is creepy enough to pull you in, and the acting is top notch across the whole cast, the film ends up feeling exhausting, and not in the best of ways.

For one thing, while it's perfectly fine when a film tries to offer up ambiguity, Neither Heaven Nor Earth fails to make any substantial pay-off. Instead, there are hints of why things are happening and one fairly annoying scene where a cadet seems to have realised the reason for the disappearances. The problem is that, while the reasoning the private gives is actually fairly interesting, the method in which it is delivered feels like a rip off. Instead of letting the viewer have an organic conclusion, they are spoon-fed something, and it's never really addressed again.

Also, much of the film is watching the slow unravelling of minds amongst the army men, and it becomes clear Antares is making the already terrifying situation worse for everyone. Still, the behaviour of many of his men never feels truly justified, and all too often it feels like the film wants Antares to be more of an antagonist than he clearly is. While some of his behaviour straddles the line between malicious and apathetic, his position is all too often understandable. He needs a reason for everything that is happening, and when he can't get it, it pushes him closer and closer to insanity. He's easy to sympathise with and the film clearly doesn't always want people to. Perhaps it's an interesting morality play at its core but, for the most part, it just feels like the character is being mismanaged.

This isn't to say that Neither Heaven Nor Earth is a complete waste of 104 minutes. It's just that it feels like a hollow film that toys with brilliance. The cinematography is absolutely splendid, especially the way the film often forces viewers to admit that something is horribly wrong, without saying a word. Camera angles do an amazing job conveying that message perfectly, and it's pretty interesting existing in this story, even if it feels like some aspects got the sharp end of the stick.

Neither Heaven Nor Earth has an interesting premise, and it's really only through second guessing itself that it manages to stumble. Instead of just letting everything be ambiguous, it toys with explanations that feel more insulting than anything. Instead of letting viewers side with the hero, it portrays him as a man sliding into lunacy, with only the occasional moment of mental clarity. When it's keeping people in the dark and letting them appreciate the hero, Neither Heaven Nor Earth isn't revolutionary, but it's still a surprisingly interesting film.

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