Believe this or not, Canada makes movies.

And the short answer to why you will never find a Canadian movie next to Marvel’s latest in your Netflix queue is because of a distinct lack of CGI, superheroes, and budgets well north of 100 million dollars. But here’s the thing about Canadian movies is that, despite the lack of the above mentioned, you will get drawn into a Canadian film as you watch. There is a heart in a Canadian film that you just won’t find in a Canadian film because of that lack of big budgets to hide behind. You see this heart in the films from established Canadian directors like Sarah Polley, Atom Egoyan, and the legendary David Cronenberg as much as you do in the up and coming talent like Leo Scherman. Learning his craft under legends like Cronenberg and Paul Schrader, Scherman has taken those lesson and applied them to the tight little thriller, White Knuckles in 2004 and Never Forget in 2008. His newest film, the ambitious WW1 horror film, Trench 11 is currently making its way through the festival scene.

And all the good press Trench 11 has been receiving on the festival circuit has been absolutely worth it.

Trench 11 focuses on a Canadian tunneller in the allied forces whose recruited into a classified mission and joins a small group of allied soldiers to explore a newly discovered underground German lab, trench 11.

Almost immediately, Scherman capitalizes on an almost Cronenberg-like use of claustrophobia to establish character in his introduction to Rossif Sutherland’s tunneller, Berton. And before you ask, yes that Sutherland family. You get Berton almost immediately with very little dialogue. And Scherman shows off a particular talent for casting with Sutherland. Rossif carries Berton’s miles on his face easily and makes it honest. You see that empty look and in his eyes and the fear on his face as the group makes the trek to the trench. And as the story progresses, Scherman is pushing his idea of claustrophobia the deeper this team goes into the trench and racks the tension in a way that feels natural. Scherman smartly capitalizes off of the natural human fears that happen in such a tight enclosed space as a what is essentially a mine shaft nearly 100 feet below ground.

And as this is a horror movie, the team finds something in the trench other than claustrophobia to fear.

Again I have to give credit to Scherman for smartly using his prosthetics and effects. He picks his moments and pays off on some truly great effects work that pushes that claustrophobic line. And it’s this line and the results of the German experiments in that trench that really lets the rest of this team shine. With a cast that includes, Killjoys Ted Atherton, Charlie Carrick, Cult of Chucky’s Adam Hurtig, Goon’s Jeff Strome, and Borderland’s Luke Humphrey. Leo Scherman manages to balance the story with multiple characters with a skill that established Hollywood directors still struggle with. We’ve all seen Bryan Singer’s X-Men movies. This is a team that is allowed to establish itself and you get these characters. 

Every one of these actors is allowed to create a unique character and Scherman plays with the group dynamics with the British and Americans never quite working well together to keep Berton separated and alone, continuously keeping that idea of isolation from claustrophobia.

It’s a line that pays off the most during a climax that plays out perhaps a little overly dramatic. Saving Hope’s Shaun Benson brings a performance that’s almost unrecognizable to Saving Hope in that of a German soldier, Muller. He creates a stalemate with Berton that plays out with a great deal of tension that creates a relationship with Berton that was truly unique in a film that has many unique performances. Which is a good time to mention the villain of Trench 11. It’s not the creatures loose in the lab, its Austrian actor, Robert Stadlober as Reiner. Scherman allows Stadlober to truly enjoy what he does in the sense nobody does things during the war they’re not proud of unless you’re Reiner. And thanks to a talent like Stadlober, you will have just as much fun watching him work as Reiner does doing it.

Trench 11 is intense and claustrophobic. A future cult classic film that you will enjoy and well worth 7.5 stars out of 10. But what Trench 11 does best is showing what Canadian movies can be. That with an industry limited in it’s resources, to make a movie as ambitious as Trench 11 and to actually succeed at it only shows Hollywood that Canada can deliver just as well as a Hollywood movie can.

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