Starring Rossif Sutherland, Robert Stadlober, Charlie Carrick
Directed by Leo Scherman
Distributed by RLJ Entertainment
Trench 11’s premise is fairly simple, but it’s definitely effective. A small group of Allied soldiers during the waning days of World War I are sent on a mission to investigate a mysterious German trench that’s suspiciously far from the front lines. Since there’s no clear military use for the base, there’s probably shenanigans going on. Once in the maze-like bunker underneath the trench, the soldiers come face-to-face with some real mad scientist stuff, what with the mindless zombie-like super soldiers trying to rip the skin from their bones and all. Directed by Leo Scherman, who co-wrote the script with Matt Booi, Trench 11 is the meditative war/horror movie that I didn’t know I needed.
Trench 11 is well put together, especially the sets and the visual effects. The uniforms and set decoration seem accurate enough to me, though I’m certainly not an expert or anything. As you might expect from a low-budget film like this, they couldn’t afford to dress a lot of sets or supply a lot of uniforms. Scherman was smart to set his film mostly in the bunker. It’s certainly easy enough to believe the film is set in the last days of the first world war.
If the effects weren’t all practical, then I sure was fooled. Either way, certainly the majority were quite lovingly handcrafted. Even considering how far digital technology has come in the past few years, there’s still nothing quite like the tactile nature of practical effects that a team of creators put their hearts into. And it’s really quite a sight here. There are not a lot of scenes with gore, but what we do get is almost beautiful in its nightmarish intensity and realism. The makeup and effects are really the standout elements of the movie. And if you’re looking for a flick where hundreds of white worms squirm from various human orifices, Trench 11 has you covered.
Of course, this is all in service to a story about the horrors of war and PTSD. There’s certainly no better metaphor for a mindless killing machine than a zombie (or, in this case, a zombie-esque creature), but there’s also a refreshing realism in the parts of the movie where the monsters are absent. The actors, all of them quite good, have thousand-yard stares, especially as they move slowly through snow-covered fields. The boredom before the terror, as they say.
Lt. Berton (Rossif Sutherland) is a digger, which, as you can imagine, is quite an important position on this mission. Being forced back into the abyss of war after he had only just started to enjoy his leave time with the French woman he loves, Berton confronts a literal and symbolic labyrinthine hellscape. Sutherland is fantastic in this role, and he makes it easy to empathize with his character even before we see any gore.
The film is very quiet in parts. Very dialogue-heavy. The scenes with graphic violence are quite spaced out, sometimes a bit too much, as if the runtime is being padded. It’s too bad that for marketing purposes a feature has to at least come close to the 90-minute mark. But that’s the way it is, I guess, so if you want distribution, you have to play the game. In truth, Trench 11 would have been a lot tighter with an hour or so runtime. I guess this is still technically considered the minimum runtime for a feature-length movie, although it’s quite rare to find a 60-minute feature these days.
Having said that, the quiet moments that lead to the violence make the gore all the more powerful. You really get to know these characters before they’re suddenly violently ripped away, making the gore that much more shocking. If you’re expecting wall-to-wall action, you won’t find it here. But if you’re into well-crafted gore, your patience will be greatly rewarded.
There’s a lot to like about Trench 11, especially if you have some patience and don’t mind your genre films with quiet, contemplative moments. Leo Scherman is a director to keep an eye on, for sure.
Trench 11 is available on Amazon Prime as well as a bare-bones DVD without any special features, though there are trailers before the film. On my video run to Walmart yesterday, I saw a bunch of copies for sale, so you might also try your luck there.