In the final days of WWI a shell-shocked soldier must lead a mission deep beneath the trenches to stop a German plot that could turn the tide of the war.
The new horror/thriller Trench 11 is a WWI-period piece which pulls inspiration from such varied horror films as The Descent, Michael Mann’s under-rated The Keep, Carpenter’s The Thing and even Cameron’s Aliens.
And the film enjoyed its US Premiere at the TCL Chinese Theatres as part of the 17th Annual Screamfest.
Here’s the scoop:
At the tail-end of WWI, a group of soldiers (US and British) along with an expert Canadian “tunneler” by the name of Berton (Rossif Sutherland) infiltrate a no-longer-secret underground German facility where the Germans may or may not have been conducting experiments with the intent to create new biological weapons (pre-Nazi). Once this small group of six is inside, they’ll learn the reason why the German’s attempted to seal off this vast bunker and what the experiments are all about. As they go deeper, and the dangers mount (several Germans have returned to finish destroying the facility) it’ll become a race against time to not only escape, but keep the experiments from spreading.
I am really taken with the film’s score. It reminds me of a little bit of Carpenter and even had tinges of The Keep (keeping in line with the director’s mention of that film as an inspiration), without going full on Tangerine Dream.
The practical special effects will have you squirming (an appropriate term) all throughout the film. Highlights include a half-assed, on-the-fly autopsy, an attack involving pseudo-cannibalism and a scene where Berton chokes a would-be attacker. They’re gross, they’re expertly-done and the first real feat (a gunshot to the head) will firmly plant you in “holy shit that looks good” territory. These masterful effects are an easy film highlight.
With the random victims of these grisly experiments skulking around – ready to jump out at any moment (with their horribly disfigured faces) – it lends a “zombie-film” quality to the film. And if you get a thrill out of an “infected” movie, then many of the great “boo” moments present here will spark your fancy.
I was impressed with the period details. Not that I’m an expert on WWI-era apparel or architecture, but I never questioned it. And I always find that if the filmmakers are able to sell me (whether accurate in their period depictions or not – what do I know?) then they’ve succeeded.
The performances are solid from this largely male cast. There was no particular one I would call out as the best – so perhaps a discussion of lead actor Rossif Sutherland (son of the great Donald Sutherland) would be in order. There’s not a lot of room for him to emote while in character (the script doesn’t allow such nuance), but as a sort of a strong, silent-type and the film’s “tunneler” – he’s no-nonsense and knows his business. And Sutherland certainly brings that confidence to the fore as Berton. I wouldn’t call Berton particularly likable or sympathetic – but that confidence from Sutherland is just enough for the audience to latch onto and follow along for these tense situations.
I’ve said it before and hopefully, I’ll say it again. I love films which are drenched in dread. And Trench 11 has such oozing dread in spades. That phrase I’ve used over and over again (so prevalent in horror films), “What could possibly go wrong?” – works so well here. When Berton is brought into this situation for his expertise, and when this small group of men pass through obstacle after obstacle (since this complex is vast and multi-leveled – you’ll also feel like you’re entering “The Hive” of the original Resident Evil film) – you’ll begin to feel that sense of danger growing within you. You’ll feel uncomfortable as they go deeper – and by gum – that means the filmmakers have done a good job.
However, once the big reveal of what has been happening in this underground facility comes to light – the film loses a little push and a little suspense. Somewhere in the third act, the film starts to sag as far as pacing. It falls into some terrible cliches as Herr Reiner (the lead German) takes some personal time in the middle of this particular crisis to sip wine, talk big (a la the “you got me monologuing” moment out of Disney’s The Incredibles) and torture his enemies. It’s horribly cliched and these scenes really stop the film in its tracks. Luckily, the film picks up again to finish strong in the climax.
But don’t get me started on the ending’s flirtations with eye-rolling schmaltziness.
Never mind – here are my concerns on that front.
There’s a lot of testosterone in this film (not that I have a problem with that). But I was a little bummed that literally the only female we see in the film is there to – as my husband stated, “Simply prove the lead character’s heterosexuality”. Perhaps that’s a bit extreme. My take is that she exists only to be an inspiration for Berton’s survival. And with that comes those more schmaltzy moments. There’s never enough of a connection (only one scene exists with Berton’s love interest Veronique – played by Karine Vanasse) to make me buy that Berton’s return to her arms was an ultimate motivator. It’s just not enough to convince me.
Of course in a war film of this era – about soldiers – there are bound to be fewer females inherent in the story. But if there is to be little female influence as far as characters – my next discussion makes the case that it could have gone in a more interesting and fascinating direction.
There is mention by Reiner that the victims, when succumbing to the parasites/experiments – that they’ll not only be violent, but that their sex drives might also be uncontrollable.
This brought to mind the illness in Cronenberg’s Shivers. But the film never goes beyond the mention of possible sexual acts of violence. It would certainly have changed the film’s dynamic to have experienced some of this on-screen – and brought the film into much darker territory. With the fact that it was all men stuck in these tight quarters – the opportunity for tremendously disturbing homo-erotic weirdness was prime for exploitation. The mere mention of sexual acts promised more nastiness, but the filmmakers didn’t go there.
I’m not asking for an all out gay-orgy – but to only tease such sexual violence – the question lingers; what’s the point of mentioning it at all? If you’re gonna bring it up, then for heaven’s sake… go there.
And I do have to mention the awesome title design in the opening credits. It’s sort of a spoiler, but also an appetizing (non-appetizing?) promise of things to come.
With strong performances, claustrophobic tension, amazing practical effects, but some late-in-the-game pacing problems – Trench 11 is definitely worth your time.
The film is still blasting through the festival circuit – so stay tuned for wider release information.