Screamfest Review: Canadian Film ‘Trench 11’ Digs into WW1 and Body Horror

A hundred years later, and as we approach the centennial of the Armistice, The Great War remains a jarring and destructive cataclysmic harbinger of the violence that would continue to blemish and plague the twentieth century. Rationality and the destructive and dehumanizing outcome of World War I was supposed to end all future conflict, however, the war introduced efficient means to annihilate human life; from high-powered machine guns, to air combat, tanks, and even poison gas, while at the same time, planting the seeds that were to inevitably germinate into World War II.

Hailing from Canada, Trench 11, explores the lengths of war and our knack for creating our own destructive ends, through a body horror flick, strangely enough, that recalls the film’s of David Cronenberg and John Carpenter’s The Thing.

The film opens up with a group of Canadian soldiers in a tunnel system deep below ground. These aren’t ordinary soldiers, however. They’re known as tunnelers and serve as saboteurs who slow German efforts by blowing up their elaborate subterranean systems. Among the tunnelers is our protagonist Berton (Rossif Sutherland), trying his best to keep it together despite the claustrophobic conditions of his  occupation. Once the Canadian soldiers are discovered from above ground, the Germans blow the top off this thing causing a cave-in within the underground labyrinth. Three months later lone survivor Berton, now consumed by alcohol, and shell shocked, is tasked to aid a team of American soldiers, on a mission from British intelligence, to find and destroy Trench 11; a potential underground system of German malady and German weaponry.

What the soldiers find in Trench 11 is nothing short of terrifying, adding insult to injury to a seemingly perpetual war taking place above ground. The group have come across a new weapon and the human body serves as its host and the mechanism in which to inflict its damage to other human life. These infected soldiers become consumed and driven by a single motivation: violence. The twisted experiments are conducted by Reiner (Robert Stadlober), a German officer, who foreshadows the maniacal and sick atrocities by the Nazis during World War II, but also, personifies an ideological point of view that would later lead the Nazis to power. Nevertheless, the experiments have gone awry and what was supposed to be a parasite that affected livestock finds its way to humans and its not pretty.

For the squeamish this one might not be for you, but for those that can brave the impressive practical gore, and virulent creatures that look like heart worms, Trench 11 will surely impress. However, the film is more than a gross-out gore fest. Director Leo Scherman’s film is a genre bending paced exploration on the psychological effects of war, and humanity. The film slowly sets us up to the inevitable confrontation with the zombie-like men that now dwell below the earth, but stimulates the mind along the way, offering more than just horror, introspectively focusing on the horrors of war and their origin– within the self.

Set within the confines of, mostly, a single setting, and low key lighting, Trench 11, casts a light on violence as a virulent and contagious disease. One would be remiss not to point out the metaphor of deeply entrenched violence in the labyrinth of the human mind, but also, the relationship between humanly created weapons of death and those that it annihilates. That being said, Trench 11, is not without humanity, through death and darkness Scherman unearths a touching relationship between Berton and a Prussian soldier named Mueller (Shaun Benson), enemies that have more in common when the veil of patriotism and duty are removed.

Trench 11 is tense and gory, blanketing the viewer with a sense of deja vu, as one can’t help but recall The ThingScherman eloquently captures the solemnity and hopelessness of war with brooding cinematography by Dylan Macleod, adding a touch of humanity with a script co-written by Scherman and Matt Booi.

Trench 11 had its US premiere at Screamfest 2017. Check out the trailer below.