Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Review : The Tunnel (2011)


Carlo Ledesma

Determined to find the truth behind a government cover up, a news team descends into a network of abandoned underground train tunnels looking for the facts of the story. What they find there in the endless darkness is something unimaginable. Something that is hunting them, one by one. And they're running out of light...

First of all, lets get the history of this films inception out of the way. It seems that THE TUNNEL's actual merit as a work of film, has been overshadowed by its rather excellent back story. The movie was funded independently, by the filmmakers selling frames of the film online in order to finance it. It was then releases simultaneously on a variety of platforms, including DVD, pay per view, and for FREE as a torrent download. I posted an article going into a little more detail about it here. Of course, I'm all for this method of film production. Its original, its risky and its somewhat symbolic of the independent spirit that is the horror genres birthright. And, lest we all forget, it worked. The film has been well received and word of mouth is quickly bringing it to the attention of many. The real problem here is that for a film with such an original conception, the work itself does come across as very derivative.

I'm an unapologetic fan of the found footage sub genre. When its done right, it can make for a very effective film that draws the audience into its world and its situation in a very personal, unique way. When executed poorly, however, it can be an unmitigated disaster. I despised Romero's DIARY OF THE DEAD yet I love THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, REC and even enjoyed CLOVERFIELD. In a film that implores you to take it as factual, you damn well better make it appear authentic. Background music and poor performances will draw you straight out of a film of this type, (see DIARY for more details). But as I said, there are very good examples of horror to be found. And its a fine place for an up and coming director to make his mark on the industry.

Bel Delia as Natasha
THE TUNNEL isn't really a found footage film, though. The bulk of the movie is made up of footage recorded by the ill fated crew, but in essence, it falls into the 'mockumentary', (hate that term), branch off that LAKE MUNGO and THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES followed a few years earlier. I'm fond of this style of filmaking too, and this film is a pretty fine example of it. I should add that there is music used in the film, but it works well as its a faux documentary, and the dramatic music used is a fair representation of what you'd find in any dark documentary on cable. Alas, THE TUNNEL has a number of flaws that I'll have to be honest talking about as they let the film down, but before I go into that I have to say I commend the filmmakers for their work. I have a lot of respect for these guys, and I'm not hating on the movie at all, so stick with me.

The main issue the film suffers from is a lack of originality. The basic plot, a group go looking for a story in a secluded location, find themselves lost and fighting for their lives; is pretty much a retread of BLAIR WITCH, and while this film hold its own and is well made, its setup is simply too familiar by now. Any discerning horror fan will have seen almost everything here done before, and often done better, though THE TUNNEL is certainly an above average film of its type, its unfortunately came along a few years too late, and by sticking to the formula so rigidly, it loses some of its power.

The other flaw, although this is a matter of opinion, is the decision to inter cut the footage with interviews from the surviving members of the crew. What this does, of course, is tells us in no uncertain terms who's gonna live and who's gonna die. Its a double edged sword. For some, the tension will come from NOT knowing who's going to bite it. For others, knowing the ultimate fate of the crew builds apprehension as to when the hammer will fall. In this case, I'd much rather have been kept in the dark as to who lives and who dies horribly. The film lost a measure of its tension, for me, due to this.

That THE TUNNEL remains a very suspenseful, and creepy film, despite these errors, is testament to the talent on show. It follows all the beats we're used to, but its made so well that you may find yourself caught in its web regardless of familiarity. The underground tunnel network is a brilliant location, allowing for many very claustrophobic sequences and a feeling of total isolation. Its very easy to imagine getting lost in this place. Also of not are the four central performances. The cast all come off as naturalistic as the script allows, and they really help sell the sense that this really happened. The two 'survivors' also do really well during the interview sections. They manage to convey a greater sense of loss and tragedy than is written in the script. The casting is spot on and the performances are great. We spend a good portion of time with the news team before we head into the dark with them, for some perhaps too long. For me, it was just the right amount of time for me to get a feel for these people. For others, it will be worth the wait, as when the film wastes no time at all hitting them with hell once they're down there in the pitch black. Also of note is James Caitlan in a very small but significant role as Trevor, a homeless person who's lived in the tunnels and knows a few secrets about the place. He's very effective as a tramautised soul, and his one scene is filled with a creeping dread that really ups the horror, and anticipation of whats to come.

James Caitlan as 'Trev'
I wont go into revealing what horror they encounter in those dank tunnels. Hell, I'm not even sure I know for sure myself, though there are hints here and there at an urban legend regarding a 'Slender Man'. Eagle eyed viewers will find a number of clues as to what the hell is down there in the dark, but they ARE only hints, and its to the filmmakers credit that your left as much in the dark as the poor bastards trapped down there with the damn thing. And what of the human/creature hunting the news team? Rest easy, it's pretty damn scary. Theres some brilliantly eerie scenes in here. One in particular, (and the films only real moment of onscreen violence), involving an underground lake and an ill fated security guard, really sent a chill up my spine. In this scene and many others, the use of light and dark is excellent. Barely glimpsed shapes in the blackness and creeping shadows really fuel the viewers imagination. Its a scary little film, this. Familiar, but very effective.

THE TUNNEL can be watched for free, so there's really no reason to miss this one. That its actually a memorable edition to the sub genre doesn't hurt either. Watch this one with the lights down and surround sound if possible. Its got solid scares, a location that nightmares are made, a great cast and a very creepy, mysterious killer. As horror fights for new ideas and concepts, returning to old ones is a given. When they're executed this well, its very hard to complain.

7 Creepy Hobo's out of 10

1 comment:

  1. Love the feel in this flick! I nearly felt tired in the one hour mark but then BAM! Inbred in the dark twisting heads! Now that's creepy!