Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Trench 11 (2017)

It’s the ending stretch of World War I. A British desk jockey trying to get his piece of glory before it’s too late manages to convince his superiors to send him and a small group of soldiers to investigate a hidden underground complex the Germans just fled. He suspects it to be the secret lab of German mad scientist Reiner (Robert Stadlober), also known as “The Prophet”.

He’s all too right about that, and soon the mixed group of Brits, Americans and PTSD-struck Canadian tunnel expert Berton (Rossif Sutherland) has to survive the products of Reiner’s experiments, which look and sound like rather icky worm-induced rage zombies. To make a bad situation worse, the German high command has sent the surprisingly sane Hauptmann (whom the IMDB lists as a “Kapitän”, which would be a sea captain) Müller (Shaun Benson) with a team of men as well as Reiner himself back to the laboratory to purge the place. Still worse for everyone’s potential survival is the little fact that Reiner really is a bit of a prophet in that he’s very much foreseeing the spirit of Hitler and would really rather let the world be destroyed by his worm zombies, Germany potentially rising from the flames “purged of all weakness”, and so on and so forth.

German zombie-style infected in a bunker, you say? I believe I’ve seen a couple of films in this particular sub-genre of the Nazi zombie film before. In theory, the setting of Leo Scherman’s Trench 11 during World War I could differentiate it a bit from other films it does rather remind one of, but in practice, it doesn’t make much of a difference if a German zombie soldier in a low budget film is a Nazi or not, particularly since zombie creator Reiner is very much written to embody the spirit of Nazism, while Benson’s Müller is that well-worn trope of the basically decent German soldier (who just happens to guard a KZ, but didn’t notice anything untoward, no sir, but I digress into directions this film really isn’t responsible for). So, the big difference between this and other bunker zombie films really only is the choice of uniforms. Originality, you gotta seek elsewhere.

However, Scherman’s film has more than enough going on in it to recommend itself for a day when one is in the mood for the unsurprising. For one, the script is pretty tight, with simply yet effectively drawn characters acting in ways that make sense for them while still hitting all the mandated plot beats of the sub-genre they are moving in. The cast is doing a good job with them, too, Sutherland and Benson making an effective duo of heroes, and Stadlober putting in a very fun bit of Nazi scientist scenery chewing containing just the right mix of foaming at the mouth and companionably crazy calm right before he does something really nasty.

As a native German speaker, I was rather impressed – that “Kapitän” excepted – by the general idiomatic correctness of the German here (though I’m not completely convinced it’s actually idiomatic for the time this is taking place in too). The German dialogue consists of sentences actual Germans would say, not something you’ll get in many movies, not even German ones. The delivery of the German parts of the dialogue (Stadlober obviously excepted), in somewhat ironic contrast, is much less convincing, not only suggesting actors who are rather more Canadian than your typical German language speaker but who also learned their dialogue phonetically.

While neither sets nor direction are exactly exciting, there’s solid, dependable craftsmanship visible throughout the film, as well as a decent sense of place. It’s never a deep movie, exactly, but it’s also not goofy or playful, treating its plot straight and working well enough with it.

The worm zombies and other effects are rather successful and certainly unappetizing creations, the creatures basically bloated to bursting with their parasites, which provides a handful of neat frissons of body horror.

As a whole, this might not be a remarkable or deep film, but it is solid and dependable entertainment that’ll not leave you feeling more stupid going out than you did when you came in.

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