Dead Mine Review
Located amidst foreign fauna on an unnamed Indonesian island, Dead Mine dedicates itself to the horrors of war and human experimentation. Steven Sheil, given the honour of directing Indonesia Asia HBO's full feature début, targets specific genre province once again, coming straight off his own directorial début, Mum & Dad, perhaps 2008's most disturbingly peculiar film. Likewise, in Dead Mine, the focus soon becomes one derivative of claustrophobia, isolation and desperation. A house under a Heathrow Airport flight path is replaced by an abandoned mineshaft lying somewhere in the vicinity of South East Asia, yet the very same constructs of mental breakdown are examined. As the characters are led from one extreme to another, anxiety rife, we're exposed to an often incomprehensible darkness.
Despite the title, Dead Mine takes its time in establishing the exterior of the island as a means of developing its characters. Regular British TV actor Sam Hazeldine plays Stanley, a battle hardened ex-army engineer, Ario Bayu plays Captain Tino Prawa, whilst there's also a lesser role for the upcoming Joe Taslim, best known for The Raid: Redemption fame. This multi-cultural cast is brought together for initially unknown reasons, as they scour the island in search of some desolate mine, obviously containing some mysterious MacGuffin. Nevertheless, for all its occasional lacklustre progression, it's quite nice to see a director taking some time to try and mould three dimensional characters even if their motivations are far too wishy-washy.
Entering the mine represents a change of atmospheric intensity for Dead Mine. The sudden plunge, taken due to pirates attacking the group, effectively designates the beginning of the nightmare, one that pops up in almost every horror title; generally it's attempted with a more subtle approach, but considering the direction the film ends up taking it's no surprise. Unfortunately, even though there's an understanding of why Sheil has driven Dead Mine in this direction, it's not one that accentuates the film in any form. Peculiar distant footsteps and disquieting shadows are replaced with the stereotypical action sequences that horror films are oftentimes plagued with pursuing. Suddenly, the quirkiness and creepiness is replaced with World War II zombie super-soldiers and the transformation to full-on action motion picture is complete, which is a shame considering the initial path possessed quite an immersive quality. Things go from bad to just plain bizarre soon after when the plot hastens its pace and introduces us to the revelation of the treasure hunt. Fortunately, Dead Mine almost glosses over the reasoning behind the exotic entities habituating the mine, which is most certainly a welcome relief considering how utterly threadbare the storyline becomes.
Although the culmination of the film leaves much to be desired, the stodgy attempt to tie everything together is alleviated from its own insecurities by some solid acting from various members of the ensemble. Interestingly enough, the stand-out performances are from the Asian cast, with Taslim and Bayu demonstrating enough earnestness throughout to make Dead Mine legitimately thrilling in parts. However, despite the valiant effort of several of the cast, there is the occasionally wooden performance, primarily from the Caucasian duo of Les Lovelace and Hazeldine, both of whom give strangely underwhelming portrayals considering the subject material attempts to be so utterly intense. In many ways it sums up the film, partly exciting and imaginative, but unfortunately also somewhat derivative and occasionally a touch boring.
If Dead Mine is to be the first full feature that HBO Asia commit to screen, then they'll be in good stead. Whilst not the most complete of films, there are touches that are genuinely exciting to witness. What a shame then that the piece seems to crumble away much like the mine around them, getting caught in the ugly web of its own plot and the clichéd ending. Nevertheless, Sheil and company have, at the very least, created an entertaining piece, which will almost certainly have an audience amongst enthusiasts of lower budget horror.
Dead Mine was released on 13 May 2013 and distributed by Entertainment One in the UK. It is encoded for Region 2 and presented in its original 2.35: 1 aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced. Visually speaking, the disc lends itself well to the intonation of most decent horror films. The images are crisp and clear during the exterior portions involving the outer layer of the island, with very little lapse with regards to colour and brightness. Whilst inside the mine, the black levels hold their own throughout. Occasionally, the disc doesn't differentiate well between object and character, but it's not necessarily something that the majority of viewers will pick up on. Additionally, the shadow detail shows up well during the very darkest of scenes, although sometimes more accentuation is needed, again to discern between two contrasting elements.
The audio soundtrack is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround. Sound, generally speaking, is of a good quality, with the wildlife of the early section of the film being used to full effect as a device of its own. Considering Dead Mine utilises silence in order to emphasise the brooding atmospheric intensity once inside the mine, the audio is particularly good for those genre-bound distant footsteps belonging to an unknown source. Regardless of accents of some of the cast, the dialogue is easy to hear with very little muffle and zero jumps or cuts. Subtitles weren't needed on my end, but nevertheless, they were tested and appear to correspond well to the spoken dialogue of the actors.
Special features are broken down into three distinct parts: Interviews with cast and crew, behind the scenes and deleted scenes.
The first section concerning cast and crew is likely the heftiest in terms of content, even if the questions asked of the actors are bland and general in nature. Almost all of the cast are asked to respond with their thoughts on what was it like working with a mixed race cast and challenged to explain their individual characters. The most interesting study is of Ian Bailie, the production designer, who offers an alternative angle, being able to respond to inquiries about set design. The editing is a little abrupt unfortunately, with many of the responses being cut off before a natural ending.
Behind the scenes is a mixed bag, with our introduction by way of a hand-held camera becoming incredibly frustrating. This section is very much of the fly on the wall variety, with clips of Steven Sheil directing and advising, which adds a little scope to Dead Mine as a collective. There is a large amount of time, relative to the segment, dedicated to fight scenes with the antagonist species. Whilst it does get old and weary quickly, the general premise of choreography within the confines of an extremely small and cramped space makes its place within the special features very much welcome.
Finally, the deleted scenes are sorely lacking, comprising simply of five short scenes coming together for a grand total of several minutes, all providing extensions of scenes in the final cut. The scenes range from cutting vines from the mine entrance to a little exposition of the old Japanese soldier. They're all either hopelessly mundane or simply redundant as part of a special feature package, hence the disappointment as part of a trio which had the potential for intrigue.