Afghan Knights (2007)

Michael Madsen stars in an unexpectedly creepy and bizarre modern horror. Scanbox UK R0 DVD.

The Film

When Stalin invaded Mongolia in the 1930s, Monks of an ancient sacred order managed to save ancient spears said to contain the spirit of Genghis Khan and took them to safety. In the modern day a veteran of the Afghanistan conflict, ex-soldier Pepper is tormented by flashbacks of the fact that he left a man behind on his last mission. He is contacted by his old commander and offered a lot of money to go back to Afghanistan leading a private team and extract a local War Lord from the country. Working with three of his old team-mates and the rather unwelcome presence of a British ex-SAS soldier, Pepper heads into Afghanistan but strange things start to happen and the group find themselves trapped in an eerie cave complex...

Written by the producer Brandon K. Hogan, Afghan Knights is a very different film to what most viewers are likely to expect, given the film's low budget, straight-to-video roots and militaristic backdrop. Rather than a CGI-fuelled, gung-ho action-horror yarn, it is a dark and often quite surreal horror that builds up an effectively creepy atmosphere. There are a number of strange events that take place during the first half of the film that help to set the tone - initially these just seem to be in Pepper's dreams but as the story moves into Afghanistan things become a lot stranger and affect all of those involved. These scenes are well timed and balanced, avoiding the problem of over-saturating the film with cheap shocks that befalls many modern horror scripts. The build up to the arrival at the caves is also well paced, building up the characters to the extent that they are at least distinguishable and avoiding the sequences in the caves from becoming repetitive.

Unfortunately the script is not perfect but its biggest flaws come from simply not developing a lot of the storyline that it raises. A big deal is made in the opening scenes about Pepper's tortured mental state and alcoholism but as soon as he accepts the mission he seems to be entirely sober and professional and even though the film pointedly shows him drinking from a hip flask on many occasions, it never seems to affect his state of mind. Perhaps more disappointingly, the mythos around the mystic weapons is never particularly developed - talk in the introduction of those who possess them gaining super powers is never explored, while viewers hoping for some sort of explanation for the weird events taking place in the cave will doubtless be disappointed by the denoument which leaves a lot of questions unanswered and has a somewhat disappointingly simple climax (like so many horror films, the writer seems to have written himself into a dead end) but a suitably ambiguous ending does make up for this somewhat.

Director Allan Harmon does a perfectly solid job with the material - like most modern 'straight to video' productions, the use of HD video has allowed the film to punch well above its weight visually with sleek editing and camerawork. The Canadian locations do look suitably authentic while enough attention has gone into the military uniforms and proceedures to make these sequnces pass muster, most importantly the dream sequences and surrealist scenes are well edited and largely eschew the unnecessary CGI that floods many modern genre films. The soundtrack is quite generic but provides a suitable backing.

Hard working television actor Steve Bacic (Andromeda (2000-05)) takes on the lead role and seems to be really giving his all as the washed-up alcoholic in the opening scenes, but is rather let down by the script here and spends the rest of the film as a rather generic military leader. The doyen of modern 'B-Movies' Michael Madsen has an extended cameo as the unit commander while Francesco Quinn (Platoon (1986)) gives a strong turn as a local warlord.

Afghan Knights is likely to surprise (and probably disappoint) a lot of viewers - the military settings give the expectation of an all-out action fest, but instead Hogan has created a surprisingly effective horror film and the use of a military unit is a refreshing change from the usual generic explorers or adventurers who get caught up in these stories. The script is far from perfect, but the production is solid and the acting is more than sufficient. Fans of the more unusual modern horror films should enjoy this, but not one for action buffs.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Michael Madsen - iconic star of Reservoir Dogs (1992) who has made an career in modern B-movies.
Directed by anyone interesting? Allan Harmon - an experienced assistant director on films from Police Academy (1984) to Hollow Man II (2006) and has directed a number of television projects including several episodes of Andromeda (2000-05).
Any gore or violence ? A couple of bloody but not very strong scenes.
Any sex or nudity? A very brief topless shot.
Who is it for? Fans of the more bizarre modern horror films should enjoy this.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The digital print receives a flawless transfer.
Audio English 5.1 and 2.0 - both sound clear.
Subtitles None.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Trailer - which tries its hardest to push the action scenes in the film.
Region Region 0 (ALL) - PAL
Other regions? Available in the US from Mti Home Video.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. Print language is English.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 23rd January 2012.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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