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Film Review: Trench 11 (2017)

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SYNOPSIS:

In the final days of WWI a shell-shocked tunneller must lead an Allied team into a hidden German base…100 hundred feet below the trenches. The Germans have lost control of a highly contagious biological weapon that turns its victims into deranged killers. The Allies find themselves trapped underground with hordes of the infected, a rapidly spreading disease and a team of German Stormtroopers dispatched to clean up the mess. The only thing more terrifying than the Western Front… is what lies beneath it. 

REVIEW:

Military soldiers are subjected to the most extreme forms of duress. Stress that civilians cannot comprehend of generally. Torture, blood, killing, the death of comrades in arms. Oh, yeah, and virus-riddled zombies. Well, German soldiers who are experimented on and turned into raging cannibal killers. Not exactly what G.I. Joe signed up to battle but just another enemy target right? The horrors of science and combat provide a gory grue in Leo Scherman’s claustrophobic, heavily detailed 2017 chiller Trench 11, from Carousel Pictures.

A small group of six soldiers is assigned to check out an eerie and abandoned German facility in the waning days of World War 1. Led by a martinet British major and a Canadien tunneling expert, what they find is a grotesque example of science gone very wrong that makes the violence on the surface a cake walk in comparison. A plan by the Germans to create a bug that infects and destroys American livestock mutates into a virus that jumps to humans, turning them into psychotic monsters. The infection is transferred to the victims via blood or saliva. Now the group must battle to stay alive as they devise a way to destroy the base and the contagion.

A protégé of both David Cronenberg and Paul Schrader, Leo Scherman brings to his directorial chores skills for both the exploration of intense, disturbing subjects and a razor-sharp eye for detail. In a one swoop attempt to display both the viciousness of the war and the brutality of people in one sequence, Scherman simply has the Sergeant Pronger character arm himself with a replica of a Trench 17 pump-action shotgun, developed by American Expeditionary Forces during the period. This was a gun that was openly despised by the Germans, who dubbed it as “inhumane”. A symbol by Scherman of the win at all costs blunt mentality in simple form. It tends to show the personality of Proger better than anything else could. The visuals showing this weapon in full use are as full force evocative as any images in a Cronenberg or Schrader film one can think of. I also admired Scherman’s unflinching camera eye as we see heads blown open and bullets squelching through skin. The idea that there is nothing glossy or “Hollywood” about atrocities of war and the viewer needs to see it.

While the score (by Mark Domitric, Kevin Krouglow, Ryan McLarnon and Tom Westin) is a bit of mess and doesn’t quite jibe with the events onscreen (think Trent Reznor-ish in tone), the Canadien locations stand in nicely for the Argonnes Forest French locale and the dilapidated structure used for the underground lab is the stuff creep-filled nightmares are made of. Add in the appropriate dim lighting and you have just the venue for horrors to unfold.

The script (by Scherman and Matt Booi) is more than serviceable even if a mite too much to stock formula. I appreciated that the characters, especially the hero Lt. Berton, seemed more fleshed out than usual and framed with nice bits of backstory. Time is even allowed for moments of reflective dialogue, usually missing from the cookie-cutter chiller relegated immediately to the dvd shelf or on-demand queue. In fact, combining this script with the estimated $1.6 million budget, a fine sense of period detail is still managed and underscores the story well.

Rossif Sutherland, as the burned-out shell of a man Berton and Robert Stadlober, as the power-obsessed Major Reiner, take home the acting honors amongst a solid cast. Sutherland seems to have world-weariness nailed with every quiet reaction to what’s going on around him. Kind of similar to the guy who knows that death is around him no matter where he turns. Stadlober steps in as the scenery-chewer here, having a certain gusto fun with Reiner, all ram-rod and controlled rage as Reiner. His fractured mental state will not allow him to see neither the futility of his experiment nor his own pending demise. Credit Shaun Benson for not dropping his Captain Muller down to the simple lackey level for Reiner. In fact, he appears the conscience (to an extent) counter to Reiner’s loon. Humanity is in there, somewhere under the Prussian uniform.

You would be doing yourself a favor by taking a chance on the low budget gem that is Trench 11. Certainly fans of Cronenberg and Schrader will be happily satisfied with a project that shows someone is still out there who has the talent to properly carry on the mantle of visceral delights du jour from that pair of greats. Trench 11 neatly balances gore, shocks and the bleakness of war into one colorful bow-topped gift for its audience.

 

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