REVIEW BY JIM LACZKOWSKI (VOICES & VISIONS)
If you take a dash of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, a pinch of George Romero, and throw in a little splash of THE DESCENT for good measure, you might have something that resembles this gem from Canadian director Leo Schurman. But the end result ultimately manages to be original, engaging and often quite disturbing. If the final act didn’t ultimately transform into a bit of schmaltz, then this could’ve ultimately have been one of the year’s best and most taut genre films. The war is coming to a close, but the Germans have been working on a secret weapon to change the tide. Nobody knows quite what Herr Reiner (Robert Stadlober) has cooked up in this underground network, but the Allies want it and the Germans seek to destroy it. In comes a ragtag team of renegade soldiers from all walks of life and nationalities, who attempt to enter an underground tunnel 100 feet below (trench 11) in order to uncover the mystery. What they end up running into is a slew of trouble and unexpected confrontation.
As the squadron delves ever so deeper and deeper, the atmosphere becomes even bleaker. The yellow hue of Edison bulbs in conjunction with the narrow, winding corridors provide the perfect setting for tension and dread. There is a perfectly timed balance between the unknown and the expected for both the crew and the audience. Rather than relying on jump scares to elicit a response, we follow the group into the darkness and feel what they feel. Perhaps more tightening of the narrative in the final half hour or so would’ve made for an even stronger response, but the many moments that ensue are often memorable and claustrophobic.The performances are solid from this largely male cast which brings to mind the conflicted camaraderie of John Carpenter’s THE THING.
There was no particular one I would call out as the best – so perhaps a discussion of lead actor Rossif Sutherland (son of the great Donald Sutherland) would be in order. There’s not a lot of room for him to emote while in character but as a sort of a strong, silent-type and the film’s “tunneler” – he’s no-nonsense and knows his business. And Sutherland certainly brings credence to the fore as Berton. I wouldn’t call Berton particularly likable or sympathetic – but that confidence from Sutherland is just enough for the audience to latch onto and follow along for these tense situations. Stadlober is more in the honey glazed ham territory but winds up being effective overall.And as for the entire experience, there are few qualms that would keep one from embracing this as an exercise in mounting anxiety. There’s little in terms of sociological commentary (the kind that Romero always chose to relish in) but the thrills are fairly consistent, even when the conflict that ensues is between the men themselves rather than what lurks in the dark. As an immense fan of films that have an air of mystery as the walls are closing in, or even as someone that constantly got goosebumps from playing Wolfenstein, TRENCH 11 is really one of the better examples of confined, horrific distress mixed with practical gore that has come out in quite some time. We might even have all the makings of a future cult classic right here.