Review. Danger Zone
Four extremists search for excitement and meaning of life by visiting war zones.
In a world where people get easily bored by their overly comfortable everyday life, the need for an adrenaline rush becomes the norm. More and more adventurers are interested in the extreme experience of visiting war zones and getting the frontline action of a tragic reality. Such an unusual hobby is explored in Danger Zone, a Polish-British documentary co-production. The director Vita Maria Drygas depicts the mindset of four extremists who regularly visit places of war in their personal pursuit of excitement and enlightenment. She successfully points the director’s gun in many important directions, but the question is – does she hit the target?
The story follows Rick, Eleonora, Andrew and AJ’s experience with war tourism. Rick is so fascinated after his first journey to Armenia during the conflict in 1988 that he starts his own company, named War Zone Tours. Eleonora, on the other hand, is fed up with her superficial life in Las Vegas and decides to arm up and search for meaning in Afghanistan. AJ is a young man looking for an adventure when he joins Andrew, an experienced explorer who became a war tourist out of boredom, on a trip in Somalia. Each has their own reasons for consciously putting themselves in life-threatening situations, but they lack the sensibility to actually understand war trauma. They go to places devastated by war bringing with them hair care products, taking inappropriate photos, giving money and toys to children, misguided in the impression they are helping and raising awareness.
All of these storylines are cohesively connected thanks to the skillful editing by Milenia Fiedler and Kamil Niewiński. They manage to put together a heartbreaking puzzle with the pieces collected by seven different cinematographers working in different parts of the world. Their joint effort creates a unique perspective where two realities collide: the one of the ignorant observers and the one of the observed war victims. Unfortunately, that may not be enough for the viewers looking for raw emotions.
This observational documentary is supposed to be ‘raw, real and rough’, as Eleonora describes her experience with war tourism; however, it ends up lacking authenticity. Many of the shots look staged, and the audience may find it hard to connect with the characters’ narratives because of their shallow presentation. Even though their point of view is well portrayed in an unbiased manner, the criticism of their ignorance and failure to experience personal growth seems to be missing. Prioritizing less significant storylines over crucial ones is also a frustrating decision; AJ is the only character who feels horrible after this bizarre activity, but the focus is never on him. Moreover, the viewers do not have the chance to find out more about Eleonora’s saving mission and her relationship with a young woman from Afghanistan.
While it offers a peek into the painful reality of war, Danger Zone never seems to ask the right questions, and makes no mention of the ethical issues of war tourism or its meaning for the modern world. Although it provokes some strong emotions and shows great potential to become a memorable documentary piece, it mainly fires blanks and misses the mark.
© FIPRESCI 2023