Escape Through Africa begins with a flash of text telling us that it’s 1914 and as Europe heads toward World War I, the various colonial powers are consolidating their hold on Africa using native warriors as troops. That’s followed closely by a British patrol being wiped out by Germans under the command of Major Veicht (Alexander Leeb, Transformers: Age of Extinction) and a document of some importance being captured.
Elsewhere Anne (Linn Bjornland, Channeling, Fun Size Horror: Volume One) is saying goodbye to her husband Alex (Justin Gordon, Gehenna: Where Death Lives, Absentia) who has been called back to headquarters for the next two weeks. He’s a doctor with the British Army, she’s a nurse. And her uncle, Captain Lockwood (Eric Roberts, The Rideshare Killer, Megaboa) is in charge of their outpost.
The train that takes Alex from the outpost brings Harold (Jeff Berg, Don’t Look, House of Demons) the only survivor of the opening massacre and the news that war has been declared. Captain Lockwood immediately forms a search party that includes Anne and Harold and sets out to find any other survivors. Instead, he promptly walks into another ambush.
Writer/director Ted Betz seems to be trying to channel old-school British adventure novels and films with Escape Through Africa. The film’s original title, The Unbreakable Sword, even sounds like it belongs to a novel by H. Rider Haggard or Wilbur Smith. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the budget to be another Zulu or even Zulu Dawn for that matter.
That unfortunately means we get a lot of very bad CGI bullet hits, blood spray and fire effects along with very choppy editing to hide the lack of extras during the attack on the outpost. It’s also fairly obvious that several of the buildings are empty facades in what looks like a fort from a Western redressed as an African settlement. Since Escape Through Africa was filmed at the Paramount Ranch, that’s probably what it was too.
Most of the film takes place after this, with a handful of survivors forced to make a desperate journey across the veldt with the Germans and their native allies in pursuit. Complicating things is a little native girl Rigala (Imani Pullu, Muslimah’s Guide to Marriage) whom Anne promised she would get to her mother. Back at headquarters, Alex hears that contact with the outpost has been lost, but procedure dictates they wait three days before sending a party to investigate. He is not happy about that.
If it’s beginning to sound like Escape Through Africa is a Western transplanted to the plains of Africa you’re not far off the mark. The setting and characters, right down to Lockwood’s right-hand man Yash (Guru Singh, Outsourced, Kuso) being a turbaned Sikh are right out of The Boy’s Own Paper. The execution however feels much more like a standard horse opera, just substituting friendly and hostile Native American tribes for the film’s African tribesmen and the Masi warrior Chaka (Robert Okumu, Hollywood Street) as the film’s requisite “noble savage”.
The resulting hybrid, while having an odd feel to it at times is actually pretty entertaining despite the limitations imposed by its budget and a few script issues. For example, the fact that there is a German agent and who they are is obvious even before we’re told there is one. And while I’m no expert on eyewear, the glasses Captain Lockwood wears in several scenes look extremely modern.
If you understand this is a very low-budget production and not a wall-to-wall action epic, something the presence of Eric Roberts probably already told you, Escape Through Africa is a diverting and fairly family-friendly film. And, as an added bonus Eric Roberts actually plays a major character and is a part of the film rather than making a five-minute cameo shot separately from the other cast members.
VMI Worldwide has released Escape Through Africa on VOD and Digital platforms. You can see their website, or the film’s site, for more details. And if you want more African adventure, FilmTagger has some suggestions.