The subgenre of zombie horror has been beaten to death, then revived, only to be beaten to death once more. So it’s refreshing to see a new spin on the tired formula. Unlike most zombie flicks set in a bleak, distant future, Trench 11 is set in the year 1918 (almost a century ago!), near the end of the First World War. You know, before Nazi Zombies.
English forces set out to investigate an abandoned German trench in France, far from the front lines of battle. The expedition is meant to be a simple observe and report mission. However, in order to navigate the underground bunker, they enlist the services of a Canadian tunneler by the name of Berton (Rossif Sutherland, son of Donald Sutherland), a legend in his own respect after surviving a subterranean cave-in and managing to dig his way out after 12 days. The experience has left Berton shaken, turning him onto the bottle. However, he has also fallen in love with a French girl (Karine Vanasse, the only woman in the cast). After the mission, he intends to bring her along with him when he returns to Winnipeg, telling her it’s much more beautiful than Paris.
Berton, along with a British major and doctor, are escorted to the trench by three Americans, all hopped up on pills of cocaine and ready to kill any unlucky German who steps into their line of fire. They find the trench deserted, however a trail of blood leads the group to a pile of freshly stacked corpses of German soldiers and German Shepherds (poor doggos). The bullet casings on the ground reveal that they were killed with German guns. Why would the Germans want to kill their own troops? Perhaps the answer lies inside the bunker.
The plot thickens when they discover the ladder to the first level has been destroyed and the entrance to the second level has been boarded up. Determined to uncover whatever scheme the Germans were trying to hide, the Allies tear off the seals and are immediately attacked by Germans. However, these soldiers seem disoriented and have even turned cannibalistic. After unloading a couple bullets into their attackers, the doctor decides to perform an autopsy on the bodies. He discovers that their flesh is lined with long white strings, much like tapeworms, but faster moving. The strings reside mostly in the frontal lobe where they can control the personality of their victims. The doctor concludes that this is not a naturally occurring parasite, that it was, in fact, engineered.
The Allies are taken by surprise when heavily-armed German troops return to the bunker to cover up their failed experiment. They are led by Herr Reiner (Robert Stadlober), nicknamed the Prophet, known by British intelligence for weaponizing chemicals. Reiner is your classic German villain. He’s philosophical, yet cold and conniving. Very similar to Christoph Waltz’s character in Inglorious Basterds. His unit captures the surviving Allies. Without a tunneler of their own, the Germans charge Berton with the task of detonating the explosives in third and fourth levels, putting him at risk of being attacked by more infected. Reiner hangs back and reveals his fiendish plot to the doctor over a glass of wine. Although he was given orders to bury his science project, Reiner plans to save a sample of the serum. He knows that Germany will lose the war, but he would rather see all of Europe infected than allow Germany to be defeated.
Trench 11 takes some inspiration from the Thing: the Allies arrive in the aftermath of a massacre at an army base. The strings that sprout forth from the sinuses of the infected is reminiscent of the Thing mid-transformation. Also the soundtrack is very Carpenter-esque. However, I loved the decision to make the film a period-piece, which involves a lot of attention to detail, from the army apparel to the weaponry. It’s not everyday you get to fight zombies with lugers, bayonets and trench clubs.
The lights are out for most of the underground scenes, with nothing but the light of the lamps to lead the Allies. This allows for the building up of claustrophobic dread, with lots of opportunities for jump scares. As expected, there’s a good amount of gore effects and the lack of light makes it more believable.
It’s very obvious that this is a Canadian-made film. Each character abides by their stereotypes: the Brits are snooty hotheads, the Americans are trigger-happy brutes and the Germans are, of course, pure evil. The one Canadian on the other hand, is a badass. He can be friendly, even to his foes, but he can also be clever and brave when necessary.
The movie clocks in at an hour and a half, a suitable time for a horror movie. The exposition isn’t dragged out too much and there’s enough action to keep you glued to the screen until the end. It’s definitely worth your time to view Trench 11 at least once, before every historical time period becomes overrun with zombies.
3 / 4 eberts
Trench 11 made its Midwestern Premiere at this year’s Cinepocalypse.