Thursday, January 12, 2012

Under Down Under: The Tunnel (2011) Review

If The Blair Witch Project met and fell in love with Rec while holidaying in Spain and then moved to Australia to start a family, their first born child might look a lot like The Tunnel.

The Tunnel is a faux “talking heads” documentary featuring journalist Natasha (Bel Delia) and cameraman Steve (Steve Davis) recounting a fateful expedition into Sydney’s disused underground railway tunnels whilst investigating a potential government cover-up surrounding an abandoned plan to convert the tunnels into a water recycling facility.

Natasha hears rumours that people are living in the tunnels and is stone-walled by government officials whenever she asks any questions, or tries to get permission to go into the tunnels. So, like an (increasingly rare) proper journalist she decides to investigate without permission, and heads into the tunnels one dark and gloomy night accompanied by cameraman Steve, fellow journalist Peter (Andy Rodoreda) and sound man “Tangles” (Luke Arnold).

Natasha and Steve’s retelling of the doomed decent is intercut with footage shot on Steve’s broadcast quality TV camera and a handy cam Peter takes into the tunnels.

Real Australian newsreader, Peter Overton, appears in "The Tunnel" and, disappointingly, survives.

I think it’s fair to say that we need another faux documentary or found footage movie like we need another Friday The 13th sequel (just to be clear, the Friday the 13th franchise probably should have stopped about 4 movies ago; 6 if you count the spin-off and remake), but as long as suckers like me keep paying to see ‘em I guess they are going to keep getting made, and complaining is futile (not to mention, hypocritical).

All that said, The Tunnel is a pretty good example of this sub-genre. It looks and sounds incredibly authentic. The dialogue is very natural, and sounds genuinely Australian without sounding like it’s going out of its way to be so. There are small touches like using real Australian newsreader, Peter Overton, which add to the illusion of authenticity. Even Steve Davis, who plays the cameraman Steve, is a real cameraman. The only chink in the “authenticity” amour is the unconvincing performance of Peter McAllem as the Government’s Water Minister.

The suspense builds gradually with the “horror” not really being delivered until the final act. The tunnel dwelling antagonist(s) are virtually never shown which, in my frequently ignored opinion, makes it all the more suspenseful, but might be a disappointment for gore hounds looking for a fix of bloody monster madness. The film carries an M rating (roughly equivalent to PG-13), so as you can probably guess anyway, the carnage is mostly implied, not shown.

In the most succinct terms The Tunnel has one great strength and one great weakness. Its strength is its aforementioned feeling of authenticity and, more specifically, the brilliant performances by Bel Delia and Steve Davis. Its weakness is its narrative structure (i.e. having two of the four protagonists recounting the events in a talking heads doco). Basically, anyone with an IQ above room temperature can deduce who is going to survive and who isn’t, which undermines the suspense of the final act somewhat.

Whilst the The Tunnel does feel derivative, it’s still a very accomplished production, and is really the first Aussie genre pic I’ve felt comfortable recommending for a long time. So, you know, check it out, mate.


  1. I've got to agree with you on all counts, except the genuine Aussieness of it, since I'd be talking out my ass on that count.

    My wife could hear me watching this movie because about 3 different times I actually screamed (not like a little girl though, rather a scream befitting a grown man).

    I'm coming to terms with the fact that I'm pretty much a gorehound, but the lack of it in this film didn't bother me in the least because of the great job they did building tension and releasing it with well-timed scares.

    Nothing ground-breaking, but a nice solid horror flick.

  2. actually, I'm a gore hound, but I still find that head twisting scene to be a bit creepy and unnerving, and I take that as a compliment!