Trench 11 wears a lot of its inspirations on its sleeve. A mix of historical fiction that combines World War II with the universal knowledge that the Nazis were into some dark stuff, it also draws inspiration from The Descent and virtually any war movie involving a small squad of soldiers. It opens with Lt. Berton (Rossif Sutherland), a Canadian tunneler, attempting to rescue a group of soldiers in some tunnels about 76 feet below the German forces. Unfortunately, one of the soldiers he's trying to rescue screams, alerting the Germans and they blow some bombs, trapping Berton alone in the dark for days.
Facts Are Facts
Writers: Matt Booi and Leo Scherman
Director: Leo Scherman
Gayly: fantastic practical effects
Dreadful: narrative problems and characters
Pairs With: Mom's spaghetti
Availability: VOD and physical media
Three months later, he's recuperating in the arms of the only woman in the movie, a striking woman named Veronique, played by Karine Vanasse. Meanwhile, a British Major named Jennings (Ted Atherton) and his compatriot Dr. Priest (Charlie Carrick) have found a hidden bunker of sorts behind the German lines and are trying to convince their superior to mount an expedition to see what the Germans are cooking up. They end up enlisting poor shell-shocked Lt. Berton and a cadre of American soldiers to go explore the bunker. Also meanwhile, German mad scientist Reiner (Robert Stadlober) and his frenemy Kapitan Müller (Shaun Benson) are planning their own mission to cover-up the Nazi's fuck up of an experiment.
Eventually, the two groups cross paths, blood is shed and very gooey grossness happens as the Allies discover that Reiner has been creating a crazy parasitic worm that eventually drives people insane (read: into zombies). They soon realize that unless they stop the experiment, it will probably spread to the rest of the world and the fact that the war is ending will be meaningless.
Trench 11's homage to The Descent is felt from the beginning, before the title even appears. Lt. Berton's rescue attempt is claustrophobic and dark. The only light comes from a small flashlight or his lighter. After the brief moments above ground, setting up the exposition, the action returns to underground corridors and tunnels, utilizing dark spaces in a similar way that Neil Marshall did in his classic film.
Unfortunately, what excelled in The Descent is missing in Trench 11. With very little in the way of exposition, The Descent created characters whose relationships were instantly understandable and relatable and characterizations that felt real. Trench 11, on the other hand, relies on stock military characters. I know that that's partially due to the time period and the narrative at hand; however, none of the characters, outside of Berton and Müller have any real personality besides their dialects and accents. It also doesn't help that the lone female character is almost presented as a prize to be won by Berton, should he succeed at his mission.
What Trench 11 does well is the relationship between Berton and Müller. Due to situations outside of either's control, they end up having to work together. A Canadian and a Nazi soldier, both aligned in stopping the contamination they find within the bunker. You could easily call their relationship a story beat in a Save The Cat! type narrative. By giving one of the villains a moral strength in that he wants the war to end, the screenwriters try to humanize him. But it's still effective. Contrasting with him is the delightful madcap and absurd performance by Robert Stadlober as the mad scientist Reiner. Some fans (maybe one of you?) might recognize him, as I did, as the lad in the charmingly benign gay German romance Summer Storm and it was fun seeing him tackle such a bizarre role.
The other thing Trench 11 does exceedingly well is in the practical effects work, particularly with the parasitic experiment. The parasite is flat-out gross. It looks like tangles of angel hair pasta, throbbing and squirming in the bodies. Seeing them crawl out of orifices is fascinatingly disgusting. And the violence, when it happens, has a punch to it thanks to a reliance on practical effects. Unfortunately, the effects can't save it from a completely pedestrian and predictable story that you could plot out miles in advance.
I remembered seeing Trench 11 play at festivals last year and I have been insanely curious to see it. I didn't not enjoy it. But mostly it made me want to watch and listen to the very things it drew inspiration from. Even the soundtrack felt like a facsimile of music you'd expect Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails to compose, with its pulsing electronic/industrial beats and melancholy melodies. A different rocker might say, "Mutilation is the Most Sincere Form of Flattery." And while that is definitely too harsh because I did enjoy it, ultimately I still find it a "Copy of A" copy of a better movie.