★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Trench warfare in World War I was an ugly scene. It just got uglier in the worm-infested zombie-ish horror flick Trench 11.
Directed by Leo Schermen
The Canadian produced WWI horror-thriller Trench 11 was a complete under-the-radar little film that I discovered when researching my “dead list” for military-themed horror films. Horror-War films are a bit of a rare breed. You get one of these every three to four years, and this a big rarity in that it is a World War I film, which you don’t see often, even for traditional war drama films.
Rossif Sutherland is Lt. Burton, a Canadian sapper, a tunnel expert, something of a hybrid civil engineer and soldier. We meet him as a tunnel he is working in collapses, and he’s buried alive. Twelve days later, Burton is rescued from what certainly could have been his grave. He recovers in France, where he falls in love, only to be pulled away from his new love, Veronique, to be part of a select commando squad with a special British Forces mission. The war is ending, and the Germans are pulling back. There are rumors that the Germans were working on some sort of secret weapon. The mastermind of that plan is “The Prophet” Colonel Reiner (Robert Stadlober), considered a madman by both sides of the war and known to be dabbling in some nasty bio-weaponry. Clearly, the man is up to no good.
The mission is being led by the ambitious and by-the-book Major Jennings (Ted Atherton) who has convinced high command that this investigation will prove all of his personal theories that Col. Reiner was concocting some sort of new deadly nerve gas or bio-weapon of mass destruction. The commando unit also includes a number of American soldiers to act as the assault team, along with Jenning’s assistant, the gentle Dr. Priest (Charlie Carrick). Burton has been brought along to safely navigate the team through the entrenchments and tunnels, as command believes the Germans may have booby-trapped the works as they pulled out, and Burton has proved many times over his ability to sniff out trouble underground.
The German fortifications are much more elaborate than anyone could have expected, and it appears that a small underground city has been built below the trenchworks. They did, after all, have several years in one place, and digging down was one of the best ways to avoid WWI era artillery barrages.
As the team winds down through the chambers, they finally run into a German soldier, abandoned in the base. He is raving and ill, but he is determined to prevent them from continuing past a door, heavily locked from their side of the door. He is babbling somewhat incoherently, but there is a desperate fear in the man. Major Jennings ignores the pleas of the German soldier, and he orders the commando team forward. As they do so, the panicked soldier forces one of the commandos to blow the back of his head out with a shotgun, taking any secrets of what lay beyond a secret. (whoops)
When they pass through they encounter a number of emaciated, delirious, and maniacally violent soldiers who ambush the commandos puking nasty fluids and fighting with tooth and fists, essentially 28 Days Later-like rage zombies. An impromptu autopsy proves that these men have been infested with ropey worm-like parasites that writhe and spew out from the body through all orifices once it is opened up. Still, Jennings wants to press on, despite all the red flags and the protestations of his team.
Meanwhile, it turns out Reiner is not at the base, but back at German HQ, where he reveals that he still he wants to return back to his lab to recover his work that was hastily abandoned. This was, apparently his attempt to create super soldiers, it just didn’t work out the way he had hoped. (Surprise!) He also gets a commando squad, led by the skeptical Captain Mueller (Shaun Benson), who proves that, yes, this is WWI and these are not Nazis, they are Imperial Germans, and not hell-bent on employing a master strategy. So, the Germans set off, back to the underground facility, and conflict is guaranteed.
What you end up with is bad guys on both teams, good guys on both teams, and infected zombie-like wormy German test subjects in-between, and it becomes a battle to see who can get out alive. Simple enough!
There are some great moments, like the autopsy scene (a nod to The Thing, for sure) which was suitably gross, and the claustrophobic second act that was full of suspense. The performances of Shaun Benson, playing the noble captain and Roffif Sutherland, who plays the laconic tough guy were really magnetic performances who played well off of each other. And, conceptually I liked the premise of the film. World War I was an ugly conflict that naturally fits with a horror theme.
This film, however, has some pretty big issues.
I know that this was a low budget film, but the editing and the directing are sloppy. It really felt like at the most dramatic moments were done in one take, and the results were sometimes confusing or it looked like a practical effect, a squib, or a misplaced sound effect would fail to do its job. Perhaps there was a big make-up effect that they couldn’t afford to redo, but that’s why you rehearse these things. There is a machine gun sequence in which a hail of bullets cuts loose, but the only things that get hit are bodies. A more sophisticated effects crew would have splintered the scenery, and really sold the action. Instead, it comes out guns blazing but bullets magically mild for all the would-be fury. There is another sequence where one person shoots another person, but there’s only a slight “pop” and a man falls back, but there is no muzzle flash, no squib… just poor stunt work and effects.
Also, the two erstwhile villains, Reiner and Jennings are just too much. There is zero subtlety to these characters, and though they chew the scenery, they are more annoying than they are amusing. Their motivations are so transparent, so hollow, that it really limits the ability for this film to be taken seriously. If you removed these two characters and kept the rest of the characters, I think the film would have had better dramatic tension. Or, they could have arranged for the two of them to have a slap fight to the death, and that would have amused me to no end.
I wish they had more time to do this movie, as there are elements that are impressive but feel rushed. Also, given the fact that there is so much of the promotional material featuring the squirmy wormies, I would have liked to have seen more of that icky material. Since they were practical effects, it may have proved to be too difficult to execute lots of worms, but it would have made it more fun for a horror fan. In the end, if you like war movies and horror movies, this is worth a watch. Otherwise, you’re not missing too much.
Trench 11 is rated R for violence and gore (even if not executed well all the time.) It is available for streaming free with Amazon Prime membership.