The Tunnel is a new Australian entry in the ever-popular (for better or worse) “found footage” sub-genre of Horror movies. Like its predecessors The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, [Rec], and Cloverfield, The Tunnel uses what appears to be a mix of handheld camera (operated by the characters themselves), security camera, audio recordings, and in this case, even “documentary” interviews to piece together a fictional story in order to make it feel more real and personal.
Although this style of film making is almost over-used in the Horror genre these days, I for one am still a fan of it – I think it generally tends to be very effective, and when you imagine all the intentional work that is put into making the camera operation look unintentional (just watch the ‘making-of’ extras on Cloverfield for a superb example) you have to really admire the technique. Still, it is not for everyone.
What sets this movie apart from the rest is unfortunately not much, beyond the marketing technique. The Tunnel is somewhat “revolutionary” for being one of the first films (of my knowledge) to be released via internet torrents. The filmmakers are funding the release through the sale of individual frames from the film (also a first), as well as DVD “hard copies,” while the full movie is available for free, in any home with an internet connection.
As for the movie itself, The Tunnel has its share of strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side, the actors all offer fairly strong performances, and the abandoned subway (and sub-subway) tunnels offer the perfect creepy atmosphere for a blood-thirsty sub-human to call home. Unfortunately, due to a number of mis-steps and a general lack of any real surprises, that’s about where the pluses dry up, and where I must begin a semi-rant about the minuses.
Despite having a decent plot for a movie that really didn’t need one, the makers of The Tunnel spent entirely too much time explaining the plot to the audience (me!) and not enough time scaring them (me). As a matter of fact, by the time we have learned that the main characters are television journalists who are entering the tunnels to investigate why a promising city plan to build a water recycling plant suddenly ceased to be discussed, and why homeless tunnel residents have been disappearing, the film is literally half over. It took me only one run-on sentence; it took them 45 minutes.
Finally, half-way into the movie, the scary-ish stuff begins to happen. Someone disappears, and everyone else panics and runs around screaming and panting, and finding weird blood-stained rooms and discarded body parts (very reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project in many ways, almost to the point of re-hash). Eventually we get a few blurry shots of the blood-thirsty sub-human in question, who looks a bit like Rubber Johnny, and has a fetish for eyeballs.
There’s nothing really wrong with any of this really, except that pretty much all of the jump scares came at exactly the time I expected them to, and everything else about it felt like I’d seen it before. Incredibly, there’s somehow even more pacing issues, even after the first half was burned up on plot development. This is because unlike most “found footage” Horror films, The Tunnel chose to be a full-on mock-doc. Right when the tension is really building up, it cuts away to an interview with one of the survivors about how they regretted going down that one hallway, or how scary that moment was for them. This ruined the mood for me every time, and added literally nothing to the film, not to mention that featuring interviews with the survivors spoils the surprise of who ends up surviving in the end. Overall, this was a major factor that kept me from enjoying this movie as much as I could have under different circumstances, like if it were a better movie for instance.
Finally, although I think the marketing and distribution of this film was a really fresh, new idea (which will hopefully inspire more indie filmmakers to do the same), I can’t help but feel that it might have hurt this film in some ways, primarily for the fact that it might have been much scarier and more effective to view it in a traditional movie theater, rather than on my laptop. Still, you can’t go wrong with a movie that you are encouraged to download for free, although it really takes all the fun out of pirating. Overall, I have to give this one a disappointing 2.5/5.