Thursday, 18 August 2011

Damnatus (Film Review)

The Enemy is close. The Enemy is watching. The Enemy is here.

Damnatus is arguably one of the most ambitious fan films available online, certainly the most ambitious Warhammer one ever made. It was privately created by a group of fans as a non profit project and intended to accurately portray Warhammer in all its grimdark glory. Most surprisingly, it does a far better job at portraying the universe than most officially produced Games Workshop material.

The film is set on a hive world where a small group of soldiers are tasked by the Inquisition with investigating on goings down below the gigantic hive city.
The group soon find themselves in over their heads and being hunted by a powerful daemon.

The generic story feels almost exactly the sort of thing you’d see in any Dark Heresy game, and at times that’s exactly what Damnatus feels like. A glorified LARPing session with a TV movie budget, in part due to the average acting of the cast.
Despite this there are a few things which help elevate the film from feeling like the partially completed, no budget monstrosities which are featured on the SyFy channel. The most obvious point being that the makers of the film seemed to truly care about what they were making.

As well as having extremely atmospheric location shoots such as ruined factories in Rottweil an immense amount of effort was put into the costumes and detailing of the film. Scratch built props were made based upon drawings in army books, entire CGI sections were made to show the exterior of the forge world and an Imperial frigate, the makers even went so far as to create a mechanical tech priest outfit.

Save for the FMV scenes from Final Liberation, it contains some of the most detailed props and costumes you’ll find outside of Games Day.

Ignoring the rusting location shoots and wardrobes, what really helps the film is the cinematography and the way the film is structured. The unconventional style the whole film is shot in gives an extremely disjointed feeling to events, and this only increases as the film goes on. Oddly enough this actually works extremely well, it makes everything feel especially alien and atmospheric. It seemed to emphasise upon the nervous detachment the characters felt upon fighting an unknown force in unfamiliar territory.
The drawback of this is it does result in some very confusing plot points, which aren't properly explained or made clear to the audience. You might have to watch it more than once to understand everything.

Everything which Ultramarines lacked, Damnatus makes up for in its run time.
Unlike the superhuman warriors of the space marines, the characters are cannon fodder and expendable resources. They have no idea what they are getting themselves into, they are expected to die, and shows Warhammer as a place where humanity is clearly failing.
Unlike the triumphant note of Ultramarines, Damnatus ends with an extremely bitter sweet conclusion. One perfectly fitting of 40K.

While the film was banned from being released due to German copyright laws, there are some copies which can be found and downloaded online. It’s definitely worth seeking out but if you didn’t understand Ultramarines you’re going to be utterly lost watching this. This is definitely a “by fans, for fans” type of film.


Warhammer 40,000 and all related characters and media are owned by Games Workshop.
Damnatus was made by Huan Vu and produced by Sphärentor Filmproduktionen.

Some images were taken from the official website:

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