Studio: RLJE Films
Director: Leo Scherman
Writer: Matthew Booi, Leo Scherman
Producer: Tyler Levine
Stars: Rossif Sutherland, Robert Stadlober, Charlie Carrick, Shaun Benson, Ted Atherton, Luke Humphrey, Jeff Strome, Adam Hurtig, Karine Vanasse
A small band of allied soldiers in WWI uncovers evidence of horrible chemical experiments in an underground German bunker.
You don’t often see wintry period pieces set during World War I in the horror/thriller genre. That alone puts “Trench 11” off to a good start, albeit a slow one.
Having unexpectedly survived after being buried 80 feet underground for 12 days, Canadian military tunneler Lt. Berton understandably wants nothing more to do with subterranean settings. Unfortunately for him, British intelligence located a secret bunker believed to be the German base of operations for deadly chemical weapon experiments, and they need Berton to navigate them through the tight trench.
Ripped from the arms of his French lover, Berton is forced to join a trio of American soldiers escorting British Major Jennings and medical-minded Dr. Priest into the labyrinthine lair. What they don’t know is that the sadistic scientist responsible for the macabre research has been ordered to burn everything into oblivion. They also don’t know that the compound they presumed was abandoned is actually populated by the feral products of that madman’s creation, and everyone is on a collision course for carnage.
Most of “Trench 11’s” cinematic influences hide in plain sight. Patient, methodical body horror stokes shades of director Leo Scherman’s mentor David Cronenberg, particularly during a viscerally crunchy impromptu autopsy. That same scene tips its doughboy helmet to the infamous chestburster sequence from “Alien,” with the confined paranoia of suspicious men confronting an uncertain outbreak echoing John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” Less direct inspirations might bring to mind the man’s man militarism of “The Dirty Dozen” or “The Great Escape.”
Trapping all of these sweaty soldiers underneath tons of dirt while war rages overhead makes “Trench 11” a bit of a macho movie, though it doesn’t overdose on typical testosterone. Momentum moves itself through mood rather than through action. It shouldn’t be an unfair comparison to think of “It Comes at Night” (review here) in terms of atmosphere, except with actual infected attackers haunting the hallways as if they sprinted in from “28 Days Later.”
Don’t expect to see too much of the zombified antagonists however, since psychological tension builds the brunt of “Trench 11’s” terror. Execution on this front meets with uneven results of effectiveness. The premise implies claustrophobic intensity that isn’t exactly highlighted by the staging. Actors are oddly afforded more space than one might think, making their environment play closer to a dark barn than a true tunnel. The camera captures a chilly, uninviting maze, yet really aches to cram in closer for a heightened sense of breathless dread.
It wouldn’t be accurate to identify “Trench 11” as a gorehound’s dream, because its subtle suspense has sophistication rendering bloody shocks a secondary attraction. It also wouldn’t be right to let its astonishing effects go by unrecognized. “Trench 11’s” FX work from artist Francois Dagenais is 100% practical and 100% top-notch. Again, the film is not a goopy splatterfest per se, but when it goes for the gore, it goes at it with gusto. Several noteworthy shots would have been worthy of a Fangoria magazine cover or full fold-out poster back in the day.
Leo Scherman and co-writer Matthew Booi pen a straightforward story. Economical filmmaking also makes the most of a $1.6 million budget, although extravagance isn’t required by this setup anyway. While “Trench 11” isn’t at all uninteresting, anxious viewers will want to be aware that conversations can become chatty, as active energy isn’t foremost on the movie’s mind.
Speaking of chatty, if I may offer a casual aside to filmmakers casting Canadian actors as American characters: consider combing your script for words such as ‘house’ or ‘about.’ Just edit out the regional risk factor altogether. Of course it’s not even close to a dealbreaker moment, but it is worthy of an immersion-breaking snicker when the ear can’t ignore someone pronouncing ‘sorry’ as ‘soar-ee,’ as happens in this film.
Compact plotting befits the compact style “Trench 11” uses to be a to-the-point and tightly wound thriller. Ordinance isn’t inherent in its simplicity to detonate a big bomb of horror, but for a quick grenade blast of suspenseful shrapnel, “Trench 11” has the capability to keep an audience standing at attention, even when certain scenes sag.
Review Score: 65