November 19, 2018

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Horror, upon horror

Manitoba-lensed Trench 11 blends frightening First World War conflict with 21st-century cinematic chills

In the chilly days of winter in late 2016, Manitoba played host to the production of a unique horror film, set in Europe in the waning days of the First World War.

Trench 11 combines the ingredients of a men-on-a-mission war movie with the bio-horror genre. Think The Dirty Dozen meets Resident Evil, but on a comparatively low $2-million budget.

Directed by Leo Scherman, who co-scripted with historical specialist Matt Booi, the film proceeds, powered by a little-known historical tidbit about the warfare of the era.

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In the chilly days of winter in late 2016, Manitoba played host to the production of a unique horror film, set in Europe in the waning days of the First World War.

Trench 11 combines the ingredients of a men-on-a-mission war movie with the bio-horror genre. Think The Dirty Dozen meets Resident Evil, but on a comparatively low $2-million budget.

Directed by Leo Scherman, who co-scripted with historical specialist Matt Booi, the film proceeds, powered by a little-known historical tidbit about the warfare of the era.

Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>Trench 11 producer Tyler Levine (centre) on set with director Leo Scherman (right).</p>

Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press

Trench 11 producer Tyler Levine (centre) on set with director Leo Scherman (right).

"Everybody knows that World War One was fought in the trenches, but what very few people realize is what they used to do is dig tunnels underneath each other’s trenches and try and blow each other up from below," says Tyler Levine of Toronto’s Carousel Pictures, who produced the film in collaboration with Insidious Pictures, a horror-specializing offshoot of Winnipeg’s Buffalo Gal Pictures.

When interviewed on a snowy location near Anola back in 2016, Levine told the Free Press he saw the film mainly targeted to a European audience given an ongoing fascination throughout European countries with the First World War.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Actors portray First World War soldiers on the set of Trench 11 near Anola in 2016.</p></p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Actors portray First World War soldiers on the set of Trench 11 near Anola in 2016.

"Most Canadian movies try to compete with Hollywood and I think that’s a mistake," Levine said at the time. "I want to find a 17-year-old kid in Poland or Germany or the U.K. or France that is really familiar with World War One, but hasn’t seen a World War One dramatic movie made for their tastes.

Levine’s plan changed somewhat after the film was put together and screened in genre festivals around the world, including Toronto, Berlin and Busan, South Korea.

"Because it’s a World War One film, we thought (Europe) would be the place where there would be the largest appetite for it," Levine says in an a phone interview from Toronto.

"But the place where it seems to be landing the most right now is here at home and in Asia," he says, crediting the Canadian cultural agency Telefilm with expanding the film’s reach.

"Telefilm was very helpful to help bring the film to Busan in South Korea, and it was likely those efforts which helped the Asian buyers see the film in a very advantageous light," he says. "This film has sold to every country in Asia and throughout Europe, and in Canada and the U.S.

"The fact that it’s had this much success elsewhere has been a pleasant surprise."

It was also a boost that the film came away from Toronto’s After Dark genre festival in 2017, where it won the best film award.

"It was the first Canadian film in the 15-year history of the festival to do so," Levine says. "And it got the highest rating in the history of the festival."


The positive reception for the film was especially a consolation since it was a difficult shoot. After the mildly chilly idyll shooting in the forest around Anola, the production eventually retreated to a warehouse on Erin Street in Winnipeg’s West End, where ensued an oft-gruelling interior shoot with sets designed to look like the subterranean labyrinth of a secret German research installation.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Director Leo Scherman (left) on the set of Trench 11 near Anola.</p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Director Leo Scherman (left) on the set of Trench 11 near Anola.

"It got really cold and on certain days it was so cold, we had to stop shooting because you could hear the roof cracking, the temperature was dropping so fast.

"By and large, it was a pleasurable experience but a difficult one," he says. "We had to ship tonnes and tonnes of dirt to create the reality of underground tunnels. Then there are explosions in which dirt is flying everywhere. It really did feel like we were in the trenches."

The crew reolcated to a warehouse on Erin Street to shoot scenes set in underground tunnels.</p>

The crew reolcated to a warehouse on Erin Street to shoot scenes set in underground tunnels.

Ultimately, the effort paid off, especially when the film screened at Berlin’s Fantasy Film Fest.

"As a film producer, I’m always manifesting fake realities," Levine says. "We made France happen in the middle of winter in Winnipeg 100 years later and it really surprised me how well it translated.

"When we premièred the film in Berlin to a German audience and we did a question-and-answer afterwards, absolutely everybody could not believe it was not filmed in Europe," he says. "They were blown away."

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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