Monday, July 2, 2012

The Tunnel (2011)

Written by: Enzo Tedeschi, Julian Harvey
Directed by: Carlo Ledesma
Starring: Bel Delia, Andy Rodoreda, Steve Davis

I'm not entirely sure who said it first, although I know it wasn't me, but if you read enough b-movie sites, eventually you'll see just about all of us say at one point or another that the worst crime a movie can commit is being boring. We watch a lot of crap, but most of the time the crappiness can have just as much entertainment value as genuine awesomeness. Hell, most of the time the line between the two is so blurry you can hardly tell the difference. Is RoboVampire crappy or awesome? The answer is, “yes”. Most of the time, that statement is entirely true. But the thing is, if a movie is boring I can just shut it off. Most of the time I won't, but every once in a while something will be so utterly stupid that I just give up. Most recently this happened with Lars van Trier's Melancholia. If you're thinking of renting it because Antichrist was sorta neat, instead pick up the case off the shelf, open it, put your fingers inside, and then ask the fattest guy in the video store to jump up and down on it for an hour and a half. If, at the end of the ninety minutes, the fat guy jumping on the DVD case has severed your fingers, shove the severed fingers up your ass and then start yourself on fire. If, somehow, your fingers are still attached, you may substitute one of those horrible Pickles-In-A-Bag.

What the fuck was I talking about? Oh, right, boring movies. Well, there is a cinematic crime which is much less common, but which I think is as bad, if not worse. A movie that is almost great, so you end up sitting through the whole damn thing hoping for something cool to happen, and then the credits roll and you have that same disappointed, good-idea-that-backfired feeling you get every time you think maybe this time Taco Bell's food will taste like it looks in the commercials instead of something your elementary school janitor would cover with sawdust and Orange Clean.

The premise of The Tunnel is a simple one. During a water shortage, the Australian government enacts a plan to recover water from abandoned subway tunnels beneath Sydney to be cleaned and used for public consumption. However, the project barely begins before it is abandoned, with no reason given, and everyone pretends like it never happened in the first place. Ace-reporter-with-something-to-prove Natasha, along with her producer Pete, camera man Steve, and sound tech Tangles, smell a story and despite being unable to get permission to enter the tunnels, sneak in anyway. They discover soon enough why the government skedaddled and refused to comment. There's something living down in the tunnels, and it doesn't like company.

The Tunnel was made as part of the 135K Project, a novel production gimmick of funding the movie by selling each individual frame on the internet for $1. Despite the fact that it went over budget, the movie looks like that number is about right. It's yet another found footage flick, with only four principal actors, almost no special effects, and very limited location work. Now, all of that actually works in the movie's favor for a change. Usually these things look like they were originally a regular movie, and then had the found footage gimmick slapped on as an afterthought because that's what's cool these days. The Tunnel plays fair with its format about half the time, and that's the time it's really great. Few places in the world creep me out quite like abandoned subway tunnels. Something about the fact that they were man-made as opposed to something like a natural cave formation, and then just built over and forgotten down there in the dark...ick. They're as dark as any cave, just as claustrophobic, and they have some of the mystique of ruins, but without the antiquity, suggesting that they may not be entirely dead and devoid of life.

The problem is, the other half of the movie is played out as a Where Are They Now style news magazine show. This means we know from the beginning who survives and who dies, and no one in these segments seems particularly concerned about mentioning the fact that their friends got eaten by a goddamn C.H.U.D.! I understand wanting to quit journalism after such an experience, but you think you'd be sufficiently freaked out to spill the beans that there's some kind of goddamn murdering hobo monster living under the city! It doesn't even get mentioned. They talk about their friends dying like they got run over by a truck or fell off a ladder or something.

And on the subject of the monster, the movie's other major failing is not explaining enough about it. That's a very fine line to walk, leaving enough unexplained to keep the imagination engaged while giving enough information to keep it plausible within the framework of the story. We almost never get to see the thing, and the handful of times we do are tantalizing but ultimately it's a total cocktease because we're not given nearly enough to make anything of it. In the long shots, it looks like nothing more than a tall, lanky blonde guy in a black t-shirt. That damn shaky cam never lets you focus on the thing enough to pick out any kind of detail. At one point it picks up the camera and we get an up-close glimpse of one of its milky eyes and the surrounding flesh looks wrinkled or diseased somehow. At another point, one of the characters, after they stumble into the thing's lair by accident while running from it, discovers that it appears to be collecting its victims' eyeballs. So what the hell is it? The tunnels haven't been abandoned long enough for a splinter-race to evolve into these things like in The Descent. Obviously chemical spill-caused mutation isn't the issue or the government wouldn't have made such a public showing of going in to recover the water. So is it a demonic creature? That would explain the eyeball collection better than just a run-of-the-mill people-eater.

It's really disappointing that the movie falls so flat in total, because even though the monster is given such short shrift (a bit of a mistake when you're making a monster movie, if you ask me), the tunnel scenes are so effective and well-done (aided a great deal by the simply horrifying atmosphere of the environment) that even when the tension is brought to a screeching halt by those godawful documentary segments, as soon as they cut back to the tunnel you're on the edge of your seat again. It's just too bad the movie never gets around to making that final push, knocking you off your seat and flat on your ass on the floor.

As frustrating as this flick was, it showed enough promise that when the sequel planned for next year comes out, I'll give it a chance. Maybe we'll get to see what the hell the monster was doing with all those eyeballs.


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