Playing on man’s fear of dark and enclosed spaces is nothing new. But director Carlo Ledesma’s latest horror is a curious blend of found-footage, docudrama and straight horror that feels at once familiar yet fresh.
The plot centres around some disused train tunnels beneath Sydney that used to be owned by the government as a water recycling plant. As the plans are suddenly shelved without explanation, ambitious journalist Natasha (Bel Delia) senses a way to get her career back on track. She takes her team down into the tunnels and unsurprisingly, gets a bigger story then she bargained for.
The tricky thing in this genre is making the audience believe that the characters really would go down into that dark, scary place. By suggesting through some talking head sequences that Natasha’s career might be on the line, this is skilfully accomplished. The set up scenes of the news crew are by far the strongest portion of the movie. In establishing the jokey banter between cameraman Steve and soundman Jim ‘Tangles’ Williams we get likeable characters that are easy to care about. This pays off well later, increasing the sense of horror and dread when events take a macabre turn.
The theme of governments acting in an evasive and shifty manner when it comes to the truth is lightly sprinkled over the plot but isn’t hammered home in too cloying a manner and is merely an undercurrent to the main action. Another well thought out device is suggesting the team’s presence in the tunnels is illegal. As well as upping the sense of danger and threat it also explains why the cameraman keeps on filming; he wants evidence that going in the tunnel wasn’t his idea!
When we do get to the titular underground area, the film starts a slow burn build up of tension via off screen noises and creepy atmospheric shots of the scenery. Being presented as a docudrama allows the filmmakers a broad choice in their selection of shots and helps keep the visuals interesting.
Alas, when the things that lurk in the dark stop lurking and start attacking the movie is at it’s weakest point. Here the collision of found footage, night vision and shaky cam detracts from any of the mood previously built up. The tension is stretched too far and the audience is liable to loose interest in the fate of the characters.
The talking head style is one of the main positives of the movie but it also is drawback in that you can tell as much about the characters fates by who is doing the talking. However all things considered, The Tunnel is a brave and punchy attempt at a horror. If it struggles to hide the flaws of its budget at times, it makes up for this with the feeling of uniqueness generated by its blending of styles.
While the amount of gore won’t impress hardened horror fiends, this remains a fresh and mostly engaging addition to the genre.
Among the usual cast and crew chats we get in interesting look at how the film was funded via the 135K Project. This is a crowd-funding initiative that lets film fans buy individual digital frames from films in pre-production to fund the costs of actual production. Any budding filmmakers should definitely take note; here is a practical way to get your project off the ground.
Also recommended is the feature showing how the actors bonded whilst filming as an actual news crew. A decent diversion for anyone with a passing interest in broadcast journalism.
The Tunnel is set for release on DVD in the UK on 6 August 2012.