Canadian weird-war chiller Trench 11 is an exciting nailbiter in which danger lurks around every corner. The bulk of the film takes place in a maze-like underground complex built by Germany’s World War I army for, as you might guess, experimental purposes. Director Leo Scherman has had David Cronenberg and Paul Schrader as mentors, and the dark, sinister vibe he maintains throughout this film carries on the traditions of those fine filmmakers.
Although Trench 11 boasts some sensational special effects work, its main strengths lie in its psychological approach to horror and its suspenseful atmosphere. Its antagonists, a small band of allied soldiers, go deep behind enemy lines — literally, in this case, as their mission is to observe and report on the underground complex. At least, that is all that the British commanding officer is sharing with his American and Canadian charges. These men quickly become suspicious of the mission and each other, and when results of biological experiments — some walking, some crawling — start making themselves known, matters escalate quickly.
Trench 11’s main protagonist is Canadian tunneling expert Berton (Rossif Sutherland), a hard-drinking soldier who barely has time to reunite with his French girlfriend before he is whisked away by British forces to participate in the secret operation. He had been trapped underground for more than a week and dug himself out, which makes him the lead candidate for navigating the complex’s maze-like structure. He develops an intriguing relationship with Prussian officer Muller (Shaun Benson) when soldiers from opposing sides find themselves at odds in the complex. Add to the mix Dr. Reiner (Robert Stadlober), who is responsible for the biological project and its deadly results, and the stage is set for tension, paranoia, and violent death.
Leo Scherman cowrote Trench 11’s exciting script with Matt Booi. Although some characters are not as fully developed as others, overall, viewers are given enough to become invested in most of the allied soldiers, and Dr. Reiner certainly offers plenty to set him up as the main villain — at least in the human department. The alliances, mutinies, and double-crosses are enthralling, with unlikely allies bonding together for the greater good coming across as a strong factor. The cast is superb in bringing these characters to sweaty, grimy, taut life, particularly Rossif Sutherland and Shaun Benson.
The set design is impressive, though expected feelings of claustrophobia from being trapped underground are rare because the complex is so vast. The structure and the darkness within certainly add to Trench 11’s sense of dread and doom, however.
It should be no surprise, considering Leo Scherman’s time spent working with David Cronenberg, that body horror is part of the mix in Trench 11. I certainly won’t give everything away here, but I will say that a particularly grisly autopsy scene is just part of the proceedings, and the special effects, visual effects, and makeup departments are to be commended for their creepy, realistic work. As I mentioned earlier, psychological suspense is foremost in this film, but fans of grue will find much to delight in here.
Trench 11 is a cinematic thrill ride that boasts a crackerjack screenplay, strong direction, and first-rate performances. I highly recommend it.
Trench 11 screened at Cinepocalypse, which ran November 2–9 at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, Illinois.
(4 / 5)