Escape and Evasion really doesn’t feel like your average war film – and simply put, that because it’s not. While most schlocky films within the genre would cut the cameras as soon as the bullets stop flying, Escape and Evasion takes a far more sensitive and visceral look at what war actually is, and the impacts it can have – and the result is a harrowing, brutal examination of the real cost of conflict.

Josh McConville’s Seth. (C) Lightbulb Film Distribution

Lead actor Josh McConville (Fantasy Island) well and truly shines here, playing Seth, the lone survivor of a troupe of soldiers previously stationed in Burma, as he comes to terms with what he witnessed and tries to have some semblance of a life following the trauma he was a very active part of. It’s a sensitive, commanding lead performance that truly anchors the film: he is so clearly racked with survivor’s guilt and the lingering weight of his past, and McConville conveys this exceptionally. The direction from Storm Ashwood (in only his second directorial role) absolutely aids this: the film’s tone constantly feels on tenterhooks, switching from joviality to trauma in seconds, with some really harrowing imagery that perfectly reflects the knife-edge that is Seth’s life and PTSD.

In this sense, Escape and Evasion certainly feels more character-driven than the average war film: in fact, if you’re going in expecting plenty of gun-toting and bombastic action, you’ll be left waiting for a while, as the crux of Seth’s guilt behind his time in Burma only emerges in the film’s third act. It’s an enthralling experience, with Ashwood’s screenplay slowly revealing more about Seth’s past, and the fate of Josh, the brother of journalist Rebecca (a great Bonnie Sveen), particularly as Seth’s PTSD visions become more intrusive and frequent until it crescendoes towards the end.

Yet even aside from the character-driven layers behind Escape and Evasion, as a pure military thriller, it’s also a good watch. The action is handled surprisingly well: gunfights are intense and well-shot, and hand-to-hand combat feels visceral yet expertly choreographed, and some of the gore is truly brutal. It all works to complement Seth’s present-day mindset, and while the flashback scenes are never quite as endearing as the other setting – mainly because we already know how it ends – they do add texture to Seth’s character, and reveal flaws we previously hadn’t seen.

Hugh Sheridan’s Josh, whose disappearance is the crux of the film. (C) Lightbulb Film Distribution

It may be the expectation of conforming to ‘war movie’ tropes where Escape and Evasion somewhat falters: it almost feels as if it is expected to end with a big battle, which comes in the form of a long-running flashback that felt off with the film’s pacing at that stage – although the content of this, and the tension created within, was arguably the best flashback of them all. The film succeeds best when exploring its characters, so maybe that’s why the final act felt a little clunky, however it is gripping enough in its own right to keep the momentum going.

And as a criticism, that really proves how successful Escape and Evasion is at crafting a character piece that veers away from war movie tropes: the fact that you’re left craving the character moments rather than the action – which is by all means still very enjoyable – emphasises how endearing and complex a character Seth is, and how elegantly McConville pulls off the performance.

Most modern war films tend not to go down this route – this is more in the vein of Da 5 Bloods and Jarhead than Green Zone – and as a character study, it’s really enjoyable. Escape and Evasion doesn’t feel like a war film – well, not really – and for that, it should be applauded for helping the genre move into refreshing, provocative territory.

★★★½

Escape And Evasion will be released on Digital Download from September 28 and on DVD from October 26.