It's hard for me to believe, but, after nearly six years, I am writing another review of a movie from David A. Prior, starring his brother, Ted! Back in 2004, I speculated he had quit making films, but then I found out about Zombie Wars and Lost At War and I just had to see them to complete my Prior viewing (though I still haven't seen Hostile Environment). Eight years after Prior's last film, he came out of nowhere to make these little films. If you are not familiar with the films of the Prior Brothers, they made a lot of direct-to-video films in the late 80's and early 90's during the big VCR boom for a company called AIP (American International Pictures). I wonder if Prior cooled off because the VCR boom had ended and the market was saturated with tons of titles, and now that the same market (that being video rental stores) is crashing, a new market (Internet rental sites like Netflix) are demanding more and more titles, giving Prior a chance to return? There are plenty of reviews on Zombie Wars, and most of them are negative. I assume that this is because those viewing it don't appreciate certain aspects of low budget film-making and are also judging it in an environment that is already saturated by numerous, repetitive zombie movies. I enjoyed Zombie Wars, finding it entertaining and better than some of the cheesy louses I have seen in years past. I wasn't expecting to like it, but I did. Similarly, I didn't get what I was expecting with Lost At War, either.
During a war (presumably one in the Middle East),Captain Briggs (Ted Prior) is in command of four soldiers: Turner (Jack Vogel),Falkner (Jim Marlow),McCune (Adam Stuart),and Smith (James Brinkley). Briggs is assigned one last reconnaissance mission before he is allowed to return home to his family, and he and his men hit the woodlands for their mission. But something strange happens when they pass through a bamboo tunnel. They reach their rendezvous point, another base camp, and find the place deserted. Furthermore, strange beings in black are present, circling the five men but never actually attacking them. Briggs gets orders from his commanding officer that they are to wait at this base camp until help arrives, and the soldiers quickly get into conversation, leading them to start yearning for good food. Then, magically, they start to get whatever it is they are wishing for. It seems too good to be true, and Turner begins speculating the various supernatural possibilities that may be occurring. Eventually, each soldier has a flashback concerning incidents back home. As each flashback happens, we see that they are somehow interrelated. Also, when a soldier has a flashback, a realization comes to him, and he departs into the woods and vanishes.
Prior has mixed unusual elements into his action movies before, and it often works great. I refer to films such as Night Wars and Lock 'n' Load. This film is odd in that it isn't really any genre. I mean, you think it is an action movie, but most of the action is done in the first ten minutes. Then it switches to a Twilight Zone-esquire story which was more cerebral than anything else. For me, I enjoyed what was unfolding and I liked the performances and the dialogue. Marlow and Stuart were in both this and Zombie Wars, and they each have a nice screen presence, as does Brinkley. Of course, Ted Prior and Jack Vogel are old regulars with David A. Prior, and it was great seeing them again. I particularly liked the conversation about destiny and choices that the two actors had later in the movie. And I liked the build up to the ending. The ending itself is another matter. MAJOR SPOILERS COMING!!!!!!! The ending of the movie is either so deep I can't muster the brain power to comprehend it (which I don't think is the case) or is simultaneously clever and flawed. Turner draws the conclusion that they entered some sort of Purgatory and, when they are ready, they will cross over to the other side. Briggs, however, refuses to accept this fate because he is not ready to die. The film's final three seconds seem to indicate that this means the soldiers ALL have to go through the entire ordeal again until each accept his demise. Since they must forget the fact that they have done this over and over, won't Briggs make the same refusal every time? This also calls to my attention the flashbacks, of which I won't delve into. There is no way that it could be a coincidence that all five of these guys with the past link joined the army and got assigned to the same troop two years later. That means either: 1. The flashback is a lie, meant only to serve as a lesson, or 2. The war itself a lie, and some unknown force placed these guys in this strange simulation after they all died for some bizarre reason. Don't bother wasting your time like I did trying to figure it all out because I don't think there is a way to add two and two here. It's as if Prior overshot the mental limits his idea could withstand. You just have to take it all in and accept the ending as a serious misstep in an otherwise entertaining story. END OF MAJOR SPOILERS.
You can't go into this film with expectations. If you expect a war movie like Prior used to make for AIP (and you shouldn't want that since his straight war movies were his worst) you won't get it. If you yearn for a nail-biting suspense movie, you won't get that either. Still, for me it was exciting to see David A. Prior making a nice little film once again.Keep 'em coming, Mr. Prior. I'll keep watching. Zantara's score: 7 out of 10.