Welcome witches and warlocks,
Today I will be reviewing the period horror feature TRENCH 11 by writer/director Leo Scherman. To best describe the story, I will turn to the IMDB plot summary:
“In the final days of WWI a shell-shocked soldier must lead a mission deep beneath the trenches to stop a German plot that could turn the tide of the war.”
We start in a narrow, poorly lit room with two soldiers whispering; the moment is tense. There is a real sense of claustrophobia as their faces seem to be illuminated only by a simple cigarette lighter with the darkness encroaching all around. There is little dialogue, little context, but plenty of urgency as they make their move within the tight tunnels. Within moments, everything is plunged into darkness.
I will admit, I was pretty hesitant about this film as it is rare to find a period piece that can also function equally as a horror tale. This opening allayed a lot of my fears from a production standpoint, but I was not entirely convinced just yet. There is a delicate balancing act one must maintain to truly do justice to both the war and horror genre, so I sat waiting to see if this script had the chops to pull off this especially hard magic trick.
About a half an hour in, I began to relax because it became clear that they were not going to just serve one genre over the other. The writers had well fleshed out interactions between our military unit, a top secret mission that they were pressed into service to accomplish, and a mysterious goal that might or might not spell the world’s doom all wrapped up into one tidy package. Add some German soldiers intent upon destroying evidence to the mix and we have a scenario that can nicely play to the strengths of both types of movies.
Of course, things are propelled along by the excellent production values that really emphasize the period setting. As we follow the team of soldiers through the trenches, the lighting is dim making it hard to see where the danger might be coming from. When the enemy begins to rear its ugly head, the effects are all done practically, which adds a real world urgency to the proceedings.
One big thing of note is how the evil is portrayed. Through just a handful of scenes we see the horror of this thing that they are dealing with, but they are not constantly pursued by this opponent. By keeping the adversary always there, but not always attacking the tension is heightened because we are never certain when it could come out from the shadows. It also serves as a way to balance this piece out because the times when the thing is not on screen are loaded with character moments or war time tropes that keep this picture from devolving into a creature feature with a historical backdrop.
These character moments are really sold by the actors in this feature. While some of these moments are a bit stereotypical, they are sold with such sincerity that it is hard not to think of them as believable. While I thought the cast had great chemistry with one another throughout, there are some scenes after our lead military party meets the Germans that were truly fascinating to behold. The three lead actors turned in such solid work that I was actually a little sad that I was only allowed to spend about ninety minutes watching them in action.
Now I realize that I can be a bit of a snob when it comes to musical scores, but I actually enjoyed the soundtrack for this film. This might come as a surprise to those who have seen this movie because the music was anachronistic to the time period. Instead of the plucks of strings or plunks of piano keys backing up the action, we are treated to a primarily synthesized sound that might take some out of the moment. For me, it worked because it kept the tension and forward motion going throughout the short runtime.
If I had to make one suggestion, it would be that there is one small scene that interrupts the action at hand. Early on as our troops are exploring the trench they come across a swath of dead German bodies lying under a tarp. It was a suspenseful moment that was undercut by a scene change to three German officials discussing what was to be done with the thing in the trench. While one could look at this as necessary information, its placement stalled the rising sense of dread and most of what was said was hinted at or repeated later in the picture. This certainly was not a big enough deal to ruin the experience, but I feel like the scene should have either been moved elsewhere or cut entirely.
All in all, this was a tense piece that managed to blend the war and horror movie genres perfectly. The stellar production values were backed up by some star making performances making this a must see. Fans of movies like John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) or more warlike fare such as The Great Raid (2005) will find this one hard to pass up. TRENCH 11 will be available to own on Digital and DVD September 4th.