The Tunnel Review
Even the most susceptible and suggestible of horror film fans must be somewhat jaded by the continued stream of 'found footage' films which masquerade as 'real' footage. A found footage film does not need to convince us that it is 'real' to be terrifying, and besides, that trick has been pulled already (such as the gallant effort by The Blair Witch Project, or the ridiculous effort of the earlier and unnecessarily cruel Cannibal Holocaust; if idiots like the filmmakers in that film really exist, I'll happily dive into the cannibal's boiling pot as their next meal). Unlike similar found footage releases of recent times which shall remain unnamed, The Tunnel rejects any condescending attempt at questioning our intelligence, clearly displaying actors names in the slick introductory sequence.
On the other hand, you could argue that the filmmakers had little choice, thanks to the innovative model they devised to raise the necessary funds for this picture. The model itself is intriguing, though it doesn't lend itself to keeping the origin of the film secret; the writers/producers developed a scheme where members of the public could 'buy' a frame of the film for a dollar a piece, with the target being to raise a total of $135,000 in funding. A proportion of funding was successfully secured using this method, although some creativity had to be employed to ensure the film was delivered. The filmmakers then made the picture legally available via BitTorrent, as well as coordinating DVD releases, such as the one being reviewed here.
For a film borne of such modest yet exciting origins, you might be forgiven for lowering your expectations somewhat, but The Tunnel, whilst not sparkling us in every quarter, still holds its own amongst its more moneyed contemporaries. The story unfolds in a documentary format (in rather similar vein to the superior 2008 Australian horror, Lake Mungo), with two members of a film crew recounting a chain of events in separate interviews. The interviews are interspersed with footage, which combines to step us through the horrors a film crew encounter when they go down into Sydney's network of underground tunnels and chambers to investigate a story about some sort of government cover-up surrounding the proposed draw of stored underground water. As the crew work their way deep into the claustrophobic subterranean darkness, a chain of disturbing events haunts the crew, and they soon realise that some stories just aren't worth chasing.
The film suffers from many of the constraints which can occur when producing found footage films. For instance, the cameraman, Steve, takes pains to explain why he films the whole events, no matter how disturbing, so despite which awful horrors face the crew, the audience are still afforded a view on it thanks to Steve's policy. There are also efforts made to portray a journalist's obsessive quest to grab a story no matter what the price, and it's this obsession which is used to ensure the crew stay underground for longer than people may normally be inclined to do. Such details are common in found footage films, where the requirement to keep filming and keep investigating no matter what the cost (so that the viewer is able to see all of the events which unfold) can often jeopardise the credibility of the finished product.
Some other problems also disrupt the construction of the film and the accumulation of tension. The performances and characterisations aren't entirely convincing, especially during the early stages, and elements of the script can let things down; 'this isn't good!', one of the crew utters as they find some particularly gruesome articles on the filthy floor of one of the underground chambers; 'you don't say!', we cry in reply. The early wobbles with the performances and the relatively slow burning buildup results in a growing sense of disappointment as we head towards the 45 minute mark of this 90 minute film.
It therefore comes as something of a surprise when we hit the 50 minute point, and we're seized by an unexpected burst of tension. Up until this point, we realise that we are meant to feel tense, but the film hasn't exerted the necessary force on our susceptible subconscious mind. Using an accumulation of barely seen shocks, strange sounds and rumbles, and a looming sense of claustrophobia, The Tunnel finally unleashes its payload, and while it lasts, it's packs a fairly decent punch for such a modestly funded film.
By the time we reach the close of this picture, the central tension has dissipated again, and thanks to our relative disengagement with the characters, the closing scene is deprived of the power it might otherwise have had. This creatively funded Australian horror film is rather conventional in its plot and execution, and many of its separate components feel a little derivative (especially when compared to the extremely tense Lake Mungo). However, the filmmakers punch above their weight when it comes to their budget and resources, and they manage to construct sufficient tension at the mid point of the film to make a viewing recommended.
Arrow Films release The Tunnel on region 2 DVD in the UK. The film is presented in the native aspect ratio of 2.35:1, which is good news. With this being a found footage film, you perhaps shouldn't have too high hopes for the quality of the image, which will inevitably be grainy and less polished than a normal film presentation. The film is clear enough and without extraneous noise, although the accuracy of the image isn't the sharpest you'll see, and the image presentation does suffer a little in the dark blue scenes beneath Sydney's surface. That said, considering the budget of the film, the reproduction of the colours and the general image quality is decent enough, and for a low budget film released on DVD, I don't have any major complaints to make.
There are no subtitles.
Audio is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1, and fares slightly better than the image. The filmmakers have clearly put a lot of effort into the sound spectrum used in the film, and this helps to create an immersive experience when using a 5.1 surround set up. The rear speakers reproduce the sounds of dripping water, and if you listen carefully, there's a truly sinister undercurrent of sounds low in the mix which lend quite an unsettling sensation. The other effective element is the representation of the bass; when the journalist strikes the underground air raid bell, the bass resonance and impact is enormous, and extremely unnerving.
Arrow have put together an impressive array of extras with this release of The Tunnel.
An Alternate Ending is introduced by the producers, and runs for approximately 9 minutes. The producers made a good call in using the included ending rather than the one presented here, which is overlong and introduces a plot turn which virtually contradicts some of the events depicted earlier in the film. Note that the alternate ending is presented without any post-processing applied, but is still watchable enough.
The highlight here is the Behind the Scenes Featurette, a documentary of the making of the film which is almost as long as the film itself (74 minutes), and only marginally less entertaining. The featurette follows the crew throughout the film's lifecycle, and reveals plenty of information around the fascinating marketing and fundraising techniques employed by the team. This item is highly recommended.
A segment called TV Crew Bootcamp shows footage of some scenario-based training the cast participated in so that they could present themselves as an authentic film crew in the film itself. This section runs for approximately four and a half minutes.
A Make-up Test slot runs for just under a minute, and shows the make-up artist applying the effects to one of the characters using a time-lapse camera.
Shooting a Scene uses a similar technique to show the shooting of a scene using a timelapse camera. This segment is also approximately one minute.
This bumper pack of extras also includes a set of four interviews with the cast entitled Meet the Cast, and you can choose which interview to watch using the interface.
Finally, a Production Diary affords you an insight into the thoughts of the producers and directors as the film is made.
Arrow Films release the innovatively funded The Tunnel on region 2 DVD. This ambitious little found footage horror takes a while to gather momentum, but packs quite a punch during its peak. A collection of valuable extras makes this a tidy package for fans of the film, and an appealing prospect over the original BitTorrent release.