Canada has been rather unlucky in the war film genre. Canadians were all but erased from The Great Escape and homegrown war films like Passchendaele are few and far between given the great cost of producing them. A more marketable genre piece may be just what the moviegoer ordered as a new WW1 horror thriller puts a Canadian front and centre in Trench 11.
Winnipeg-born tunneller Berton (Rossif Sutherland, younger half brother of Kiefer) has narrowly a survived a cave-in after a rescue mission gone wrong and can’t wait to return home at the eve of the Great War’s inevitable conclusion in November 1918. He is called for one last mission however as retreating Germans have left behind a mysterious maze of tunnels below their lines that may contain a deadly biological weapon.
Tasked by his superiors to lead a team of British and battle-weary American allies 100 feet below the surface and investigate, the alcoholic tunneller and co. are soon confronted by a horde of human-test subjects-turned-ruthless zombies. Worse is that the unhinged architect of this freak show (Robert Stadlober) has returned with a force of German stormtroopers to finish the job of destroying the base and ensuring that no survivors, living or un-dead are left behind.
Trench 11takes the time-tested genre formula of a small group facing off against lethal creatures in a dark, confined setting (think Descent and Aliens) and mixes it with just enough political commentary to keep things interesting. The plot and it’s stakes are efficiently set up with clearly-defined, if not predictable characters (you can easily guess who will be killed off).
Sutherland is well composed as a reluctant hero with a job to do. Caught between single-minded British officers and unhinged Americans (hooked on cocaine no less), he is just the right mix of battle smarts and relatable enough for us to root for him till the end. Robert Stadlober chews just enough scenery without consuming the entire frame as the deliciously vile Reiner. A true Nazi scientist born in the wrong era, he lends the proceedings a surprising amount of depth in his master plan to drag the entire continent of Europe down with Imperial Germany in the face of her humiliating defeat.
It’s often difficult to effectively render action in a near pitch black setting such as this, but Dylan Macleod’s cinematography seems up to the task. He shows a remarkable amount of restraint in his framing, composing more wide shots to help orient the viewer where most would jump to a handheld close-up. The editing doesn’t do this any favours however as unusual cuts are often made that confused this reviewer, even during non-action scenes. This is compounded by a rather puzzling ending that may have been intended to be open to interpretation, but instead gives the impression of a rush job following a depleted budget.
Trench 11manages to elevate itself above expectations of usual B-grade TV or On-Demand fare. It’s a quick, satisfying gore-soaked ride that will play well for the late-night audience and perhaps even serve as the template for further Canadian-led war stories. After all, someone still has yet to immortalize the likes of Leo Clarke on the big screen.
Trench 11 is currently screening at the Park Theatre in Vancouver, BC