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Recap / Love, Death & Robots: "The Secret War"

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"We have our mission, comrade. Nothing more. Nothing less."
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In the remote forests of Siberia, the Red Army attempts to fight against an occult evil. Based on the short story of the same name by David Amendola.

Stefan Kapicic voices Zakharov.


Tropes:

  • Artistic License – Religion: The ritual used to summon the creatures is identified as being one of Koryak origin, but the symbols used are either Norse runes or generic western occultist symbols.
  • Automaton Horses: Pointedly averted. The small Yakutian horses that the men ride are good at moving through rugged winter terrain, but they can barely move faster than a trot when carrying a rider.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Maxim, unable to fight because of his wounds, blows his head off with his sidearm as a ghoul is about to get to him.
  • The Big Guy: Kaminski is a giant of a man, carries around Degtyaryov machine gun as if it was a service rifle and is the powerhouse of the entire platoon.
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  • Bottomless Magazines: Nope, despite using PPSh-41 submachine guns with drum mags. Everyone is constantly reloading and the final skirmish goes for so long, they run out of ammo entirely, resorting to Improvised Weapons.
  • Bring News Back: The Lieutenant orders one of his soldiers (his son, in fact) to return to headquarters with the coordinates of the Ghoul barrow — not for rescue, but so the Soviet Air Force can firebomb the location.
  • Child Soldiers: The lieutenant's son appears to be at best in his mid-teens. It's unclear if this is the effect of conscription or a very special way of taking care of the boy During the War by his father.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: The disturbing carnage the soldiers witness in the village visited in the opening doesn't move them in the slightest. They're so used to it that they just make a rought body count, pick what might be useful and continue on their way. Later, Okhchen calmly snipes the ghouls while surrounded by skulls of other soldiers who fought in that spot earlier and perished.
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  • Death of a Child: The village raided by the ghouls at the beginning of the short has at least one dead child lying by the side of a house.
  • Demolitions Expert: Pogodin loves blowing stuff up.
  • Didn't See That Coming: The barrow turns out much bigger than anticipated and all the bomb achieved was exposing its tunnels. When it happens, surviving soldiers already realise how screwed they are.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: The platoon makes a Last Stand, fully knowing they're going to die, but they need to buy time for their messenger to gain some distance and inform the top brass.
  • Don't Go in the Woods: In a way, this is a modernized version of a standard cliche from classic Russian fables — the forest is deadly and what lives in it leaves no survivors. Okhchen and Lt. Zakharov even discuss it briefly.
  • Due to the Dead: Inverted. The soldiers don't bother to bury the dead civilians they find but they do burn dead monsters, probably to prevent contamination or just to be sure.
  • During the War: The short takes place in World War 2, as most of the Soviet Air Force is mentioned to be currently focused around Stalingrad and thus can't currently be sent to Siberia.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: By the end of the short, the young Zakharov is the Sole Survivor. And given the fact it's set during the Great Patriotic War, prospects for the boy aren't looking too bright.
  • Exposition: While Lt. Zakharov's explanation of who Boris Grishin was and what kind of ritual he performed is very brief and to the point, we are shown an extended sequence of that event.
  • Fantastically Indifferent: A platoon of WW2-era Soviet soldiers is busy fighting ghoul infestation caused by a failed occult ritual... acting as if they were just doing business as usual. It's implied it's not just their platoon, but the general attitude of the army dispatched to deal with the issue.
  • A Father to His Men: Specifically to his men. When Okhchen notices another platoon fighting in a distance, Lt. Zakharov only gives a single headshake - there is no point even trying, while it would risk the lives of his own group.
  • Flare Gun: The platoons are communicating via colored flares.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When Zakharov gives a long look to the gutted out teen, that's because the dead boy is about the same age as his son.
    • Kaminski is shown sharpening his shovel during one of the camps.
  • Gentle Giant: For all his rugged looks, Kaminski is the most empathic of the soldiers and even takes fall for lieutenant's son after convincing the boy to play some music on the balalaika against orders not to.
  • Great Offscreen War: World War 2 is going steady and fights around Stalingrad still aren't decisive yet (meaning the action takes place somewhere in the tail end of 1942), but it's all only mentioned in passing.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: Kaminski ends using one of the ghouls as a blunt object against the rest of its kin.
  • Ghostapo: A rare Soviet version of the trope, with the CheKa resorting to demon-summoning rituals involving human sacrifices to aid their military.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong:
    • The CheKa attempted to summon ghouls to fight alongside the Red Army. They manage the first part.
    • The unit attempts to bomb a ghoul nest to seal them underground. This causes a chain reaction that collapses the entire side of the mountain and exposes all the tunnels within, pissing off hundreds of ghouls.
  • Gunship Rescue: While too late to save the platoon, the ghoul barrow is annihilated by a large number of VVS bombers saturating the mountainside with ordnance.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: When making a tally of the dead civilians, Siergiei says it's something around 47, but given the state of some of the bodies, he can't be sure.
  • He Knows Too Much: When the unit discovers the source of the ghouls, Lt. Zakharov decides not to report it, because the high command would rather have them killed to cover up knowledge of their past mistakes.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Both played straight and subverted. In order to cover more ground, the various Soviet platoons that are hunting the ghouls are spread out too far to support one another, causing at least one group to be overrun by ghouls while the protagonists are too far away to help, but the top brass doesn't really care. However, at the end the Lieutenant's unit manages to kill a lot of ghouls before being overrun by making smart use of their terrain and later calling in air support, though by that point they're not alive to see it come.
  • Human Sacrifice: The ghouls are summoned by sacrificing a woman.
  • Husky Russkie: All the characters are exceptionally tough and brave Russians, though Kaminski the machine gunner fits the trope the closest. He's over a head taller than everyone else, too.
  • It Has Been an Honor: Lt. Zakharov says this to his men as their Last Stand begins.
  • It's the Only Way to Be Sure: The ending has an entire squadron of bombers dropping their load over the barrow to make sure the ghouls are wiped out.
  • Just a Stupid Accent: The Russians are speaking English with a Russian accent. And it's most notable with Okhchen, who is a Token Minority.
  • Made of Iron:
    • Maxim gets his neck clawed to the point he almost bleeds to death, then is sewn (of course without any anesthesia) together. Badly wounded, sure, but alive and kicking.
    • Kaminski ends up being slashed and bitten countless times and eventually with his arm ripped off, but he's still fighting.
  • More Dakka: The platoon is armed almost exclusively with machine pistols.
  • Muggles Do It Better: While the occultists failed spectacularly to control or contain their summons and got torn apart for their trouble, a bunch of soldiers armed with firearms has no problems with shredding the monsters by the dozen. And then there is the airstrike...
  • Oh, Crap!: After the explosion, the entire mountainside slides down. The soldiers instantly realize what this means.
  • Our Ghouls Are Creepier: The creatures referred to as ghouls are borderline demonic entities summoned through a disastrous attempt to bolster the Red Army's forces. The actual creatures are however fully fleshy and killable beings, and resemble eyeless, hairless and roughly humanoid creatures with elongated arms, quadrupedal gaits and long muzzles filled with fangs. They're highly aggressive carnivores, move in large swarms and live in immense warrens underground.
  • Plunger Detonator: As the last resort, the platoon sets up explosive charges in case of being overwhelmed. First, one of the soldiers fails to reach it before being killed, then Zakharov has to find it under all the carcasses and pushes it down in his final moment.
  • Robbing the Dead: A rare, heroic example. Since they are far away, in complete wilderness and with no means to resupply, the platoon simply picks anything useful and edible from the slaughtered settlement.
  • Shown Their Work: Someone put an extra effort to make sure they've animated the right weapons, operating and being used in the correct way.
  • Smash Cut: Used liberally throughout the entire short, usually to get directly to the action scenes.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: A soothing balalaika tune plays as the Soviet air force bombs the ghouls and their mountain to oblivion.
  • Taking You with Me:
    • Lt. Zakharov blows the explosive charges as he is about to die, taking out all the ghouls around him.
    • Siergiei, mortally wounded and thrown from a cliff during the battle, pulls a pin on a grenade as he falls. He kills a good number of the ghouls when he falls amongst them below.
  • Token Minority: Okhchen, the scout sniper, is an indigenous Siberian and the only non-Slav in the team. His knowledge of local folklore helps them work their way through the mystery.
  • Wham Line: The Reveal who the Child Soldier is.
    (addressing Lt. Zakharov): Father, please...
  • Working-Class Hero: They are all common Soviet soldiers, formed into a platoon fighting occult monsters. Rather than trying to understand the phenomena or philosophise about it, they are just focused on their task and are ruthlessly efficient at it or even cracking jokes about it. Then there is their bitter attitude toward their predicament, superiors and general state of things, but without going into outright cynism.
  • Zerg Rush: The ghouls overwhelm the platoon by their sheer numbers.

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