By the last day of the Telluride Horror Show, my brain was near mush. My senses were raw. The altitude was competing with the alcohol consumed to claim credit for my hangover. When it came time for the last screening of the festival, I questioned my commitment.
I am so glad I powered through. Trench 11 ended up being one of my favorite movies of the whole show, tied with seeing Never Hike Alone on Friday the 13th.
Trench 11 is set toward the end of World War I and follows a tunneler who, after digging himself out from being left for dead his previous mission, has been enlisted to lead Allied Forces through an underground German facility. The Allies want to know what the Germans were cooking, and unbeknownst to them, Germany has sent their own contingent to continue destroying all the evidence. Sprinkle in some remaining test subjects, and you have our setting.
In all honesty, the movie had me at the premise. I have a particular fascination with war stories. I went to Iraq briefly in 2009 and got a very limited, very civilian exposure to what that war looked like. That change in perspective, however, has left me fixated on what we do in war and what war does to us.
Pairing this with my favorite genre had me sold before the opening credits finished. Then, thankfully, the movie still held up.
Trench 11 would work as simply a war movie. My World War I history knowledge is woefully lacking, and I was fascinated by the extent of tunneling and trenching actually used. The movie could have stood merely as a mission to ascertain the German plot.
However, Trench 11 could also be offered as just a horror movie. The idea of being trapped underground with parasite-infected "zombies" is terrifying. And the gore is on point, from bullet-riddled corpses to a worm-exposing autopsy.
Yet, as both, the movie is strongest. The historical fiction is perfectly balanced with the more fantastic and horrific elements. The two walk hand in hand so effortlessly that they seem to belong together.
I think what drew me in the most (besides the previously mentioned war psychology interest) was the characters. I found the characters to be damn well done. The film is perfectly framed by the tunneler's experience, starting with his previous disastrous mission and allowing him to lead the narrative after that.
Beyond that, I really enjoyed all the characters. I cared about them or wished ill on them. I reacted to all of them, except for maybe one, which is a startling ratio for both a war movie and a horror movie, where characters are classically expendable.
I could talk about the practical FX and how well they worked, how they hearkened back to bloodier, better crafted days of horror. I could talk about the cinematography and how it prickled my claustrophobia. I could talk about how the budget of the film was never once apparent. But while watching the movie, I was so captivated and so lost in enjoying the ride that these details did not even register until I thought about it after, for this review.
That is a successful movie, one that is able to tug me out of my own brain and into the screen. Any shortcomings were overshadowed by the many things the filmmakers did right.
In short and in summary, I just loved it.