Leo Scherman’s ‘Trench 11’ Digs Deep for Wartime Horror

Set in the French Argonne forest during the waning days of World War I, Trench 11 gives another layer of depth to the already nuanced phrase, ‘horrors of war.’ While graphic violence is something audiences have come to expect from battlefield tales, bullet wounds are the least of the traumas on display in Trench 11 as grotesque body horror works its way to the front.

A squadron comprised of British intelligence, American soldiers and a Canadian tunneler are brought together for a secret mission. Miles away from the bleeding edge of the action, the Germans have constructed an enormous underground complex known only as the Wotan Compound. The fear is that a man named Reiner, also eerily known as The Prophet, is using the space to create new chemical weapons that could turn the tide of the war in Germany’s favor. The mission is to get in there and blow the place sky high. There are problems, of course. The Canadian, Berton (Rossif Sutherland), has been through too much and just wants to go back home to his French girlfriend. The Americans are gung-ho, as one would expect, but they’re all addicted to cocaine and have a problem with authority. The British commander is eager to complete the mission, hoping it will mean another promotion before the bloody war ends. His companion, a British Intelligence doctor, is a natural diplomat who wants everyone to get along so they can complete their assignment and start drinking tea again.

What the soldiers don’t realize is that the Germans have left a few nasty surprises for them in the multi-level structure. Herr Reiner is also on his way back to make sure his wicked scientific research continues, and he is accompanied by men with guns. The lesson they will all learn when they come together is gruesome. Let’s just say that the Wotan Compound ain’t nothin’ ta fuck wit’.

Trench 11 is dark, with many of the tunnel sequences only lit by lanterns or flashlights. The fact that one can still follow the action is a testament to the skills of both director Leo Scherman and director of photography Dylan MacLeod. This movie relies on wooden walls and long shadows for its atmosphere. It works; Trench 11 is even more claustrophobic than The Descent.

It is also gross. There aren’t many films that make me wince, squint my eyes, and turn away, but Trench 11 did it to me. I’ve avoided going into detail about what horrors lie inside the mysterious corridors of Trench 11, but Scherman and co-writer Matt Booi have concocted a shockingly visceral way to convey how the tendrils of madness and rage can reach into the mind and make people do terrible things.

Herr Reiner, the sadistic mastermind behind the Wotan Compound, is played to the hilt by Robert Stadlober. He’s no Nazi, but he brings a certain Mengele-esque joy to his work, especially while torturing other soldiers. As Berton, our protagonist, Rossif Sutherland brings a trudging weariness to the proceedings. This is not a situation he wants to be in, but since he’s there, he may as well do what he can to help everyone survive. None of the characters in Trench 11 are heroes. They’re pulling another shift that has gone south at the worst job site imaginable, making the relatability factor for all the characters high.

All is not quiet on the Western Front in Trench 11, but the storytelling is solid, the characterizations are on point, and the things discovered inside the Wotan Complex are disgusting. It’s an interesting hybrid of genres, mashing things up while still at home in either one. Body horror can be tricky, especially if it is only there for shock value. In this film, the creatures mean something, and they feel like a real threat. But even you’re not sniffing out allegory or greater meaning, Trench 11 is a really good movie, a well-spent ninety minutes in the dark.

Distributed by Raven Banner, Trench 11 opens across Canada August 31.

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