THE TUNNEL (2011)
Review by Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic
THE TUNNEL is an Australian film written by Enzo Tedeschi and Julian Harvey, who have stepped beyond the “found The ” angle by concocting a faux documentary complete with interviews and enhanced screen shots, which reveal images the original crew didn’t realize they’d caught. They’ve crafted a decent story, giving their characters the kind of solid motivations that are rarely found in Hollywood releases. Another way it differs from Hollywood films is that they cast age-appropriate actors who you can believe hold the jobs of their characters, rather than casting pretty-looking twenty-somethings obviously too immature and inexperienced to hold the jobs they portray.
The movie opens with a spin on the “Sleight of Hand Start” (which is when the director reveals a scene from the ending to create tension right off the bat)—a 911 call, complete with subtitles, on a black screen. It tells us very little while it conveys panic and desperation. It’s a popular opening sequence for many documentaries, so it didn’t feel out of place here.
Next, we get a montage of news reports detailing a water shortage in Sydney. The reports cover a government plan to convert an abandoned subway station into a water reclamation facility. This will allow the use of water from a huge underground lake deep beneath the train tunnels. Further reports outline opposition to the plan, including worries that the evicted homeless will flood the streets. Finally, there’s a dismissive report that the plan has been shelved, though no one will explain why.
Now we meet Steve and Tangles, having drinks at their executive producer’s birthday party. Someone is filming the festivities for the hell of it, and Steve is happy to narrate the inter-office politics, while making fun of everyone the camera pans across. We see Pete and Natalie in an intense discussion, and Steve insinuates that Pete is hitting on her. When Natalie moves away warily, Steve and Tangles laugh.
In an interview segment, Steve describes Natalie as: “Just another young person coming in, getting paid too much money, hadn’t really proved herself, but you know, she was ‘the next big thing.’”
Natalie latches onto the abandoned water reclamation project, and when her investigation uncovers stories of people disappearing in the tunnels, Pete is yanked from a story that will take him to China so he can help Nat with her project. It’s a decision that Pete is painfully unhappy with. He tells Steve and Tangles that Natalie’s: “…treading on thin ice. That’s why John put me onto this, to make sure she doesn’t f___ up again.”
Eventually, Natalie coerces Pete, Steve and Tangles to accompany her into the tunnels, insisting that John knows where they are. They break in through a maintenance gate and wander about using an outdated map. In an interview segment, Natalie confesses that she could not get the necessary permits to film in the tunnel, and she believed that without them the station would cancel her story. “…I put a lot of work into my career and I think it was all basically hanging on this one story. I didn’t really have a choice.”
Eventually, the team makes their way to the underground lake. Here, Natalie tries to record a sequence for her report, but Tangles keeps cutting her off to tell Pete and Steve to quit whispering. They deny doing it, but Tangles doesn’t believe them and accuses them of “punking” him.
Later on they find the “Bell Room,” where we learn that the tunnels were used as a public air raid shelter during WWII. The bell used to alert citizens to a bombing raid is still intact. Tangles complains that it’s too loud when Nat rings the bell, so he takes his microphones into the next room to try and dull the sound. Steve dons Tangles’ headphones and watches the gauges while Pete takes over the camera. The instant Nat rings the bell, Steve screams Tangles’ name and runs into the next room. Tangles has disappeared. They return to the bell room and discover their gear has disappeared as well….
Director Carlo Ledesma has experience with real documentaries, having directed both FOOD MATTERS  and HUNGRY FOR CHANGE . With THE TUNNEL, he has put together a “horror documentary” with a true-to-life feel. We see reporters like this all the time in real life, self-important gung-ho types who believe that their cameras and microphones will magically protect them from danger and keep them separate from anything that happens around them.
The acting is very good. Bel Deliá (THE LOVE OF MY LIFE, scheduled for 2014– I’ll be looking for it), as Natalie, conveys the desperation of someone on a last chance to save her job while trying to conceal her own self-doubt. She is believable throughout. Andy Rodoreda (BLACK WATER, 2007) plays Pete, who is increasingly relied upon to lead the group as Natalie’s composure begins to fracture. Steve Davis (the Australian TV series EVENT ZERO, 2012) plays Steve, the cameraman. It was a surprise to learn that his primary filmmaking experience is with cinematography and camera work, because his acting was fantastic.
Lastly, Luke Arnold (BROKEN HILL, 2009 and a lot of TV work down under) is excellent as Tangles, who, wearing the sound man’s headphones, gives most of the early tension to the film. There are a handful of moments when Steve focuses on him staring intently into the blackness as if he expects to see someone or something out there.
THE TUNNEL has some frightening moments and above-average suspense, though it does contains one eye-rolling sequence where you have to question the director’s judgement. (It involves the re-appearance of a minor character in a place he has no business being.)
In the end, the documentary format is not a new idea. It was used in the Australian film LAKE MUNGO in 2008, and there have undoubtedly been others. THE TUNNEL is more reminiscent of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), the Spanish film [REC] (2007), and even CLOVERFIELD (2008). While it differs from these movies by coming at you like a legitimate documentary instead of a VHS cassette filmed by dead people, you don’t walk away from the movie feeling that difference on any meaningful level. It comes off, all told, like another entry into the ‘found footage’ pantheon. A good entry, but still.
I give THE TUNNEL two and a half stars with a single time out.
© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon