Before getting stuck into the gritty details of the plot, it might be best to tell you something about the back story to this film first. No, it isn’t ‘based on real events’ or any nonsense like that, The Tunnel was made by a company called the 135k Project and the money to create it was raised by private investors and film fans who helped get the filmmakers to their AUS$135,000 target. Most interestingly of all is that after the film’s completion it was released online for free. This really is a movie made purely for the telling of the story, not just a celluloid pile of shite churned out to make the producers rich, like similar horror films Creep and Chernobyl Diaries.
The difference between The Tunnel and every other low budget film of this ilk is that they at least try to do something different with the format. The Tunnel is essentially a horror mockumentary, complete with interviews from the survivors (so you kind of know who lives and who doesn’t from the start) and news footage which tells the story of a team of investigative journalists, as they try to uncover why the government in New South Wales has abandoned plans to unearth water supplies trapped underground in tunnels beneath Sydney. The team, lead by female reporter with something to prove Natasha (Deliá), also discover that homeless people who live in the tunnels under the city are going missing and that the government are trying to cover these stories up. After being refused permission to film in the tunnels, the team break in one night and soon realise that in the depths beneath Sydney, they are not the only ones there, and something much better suited to the dark conditions is hunting them down.
The way that this film is structured is quite interesting. Using ‘real’ news footage and survivor interviews to frame the back story we follow how the team began to sniff out the history of the tunnels. They find footage of attacks on YouTube and even manage to track down a homeless man who briefly lived in the tunnels and who begins to try and tell the story of what happened to him and why all of his friends are missing, before spazzing out and quivering in the corner of the room. All of this just screams ‘don’t go in the tunnels, you idiots’, but being horror movie characters they of course pay little attention. This is where the film has its biggest problem. The character stories are just folded in with the rest of the action, and it takes at least forty minutes before anything actually happens inside the tunnels. The beginning is spent developing the reason for them to go in and we only get snippets of character stories, like the fact that Natasha will be fired if she screws up on another news story and that there is already a certain amount of dissent amongst the crew, which is a real shame as if the director had managed to create slightly better characters this would have been a real triumph of a film.
The way that the tension is developed throughout the film is electric. Once the team enters the darkness with only the top light on their camera and a few torches (which obviously go missing unexpectedly) things really get ramped up and every time the camera does a sweep of the tunnels I was convinced that we were going to see some hideous creature, which does not happen for a very long time. Whilst showing your monster is never too good an idea, I was really hoping that, like The Descent, we would occasionally see a snippet of something. Alas with the small budget, the creature is not as frightening as it could be but writers do a good job of building suspense rather than relying on cheap tricks to scare their audience.
Whilst the acting is good, (in particular first time actor and real life camera man, Steve Davies), it is the tunnels themselves which are the real winners. Dark, claustrophobic and endlessly eerie, the director really goes to town in them creating a genuinely scary setting for his film. It is as much the tunnels which begin to get to the TV crew trapped there as the creature and when they begin turning on each other, it feels very genuine. Although there are some scary moments and the tension keeps you hooked throughout, this film is rather flat in places (especially the beginning) and falls into the irritating found footage pothole of never explaining what is actually going on. Despite this, I quite enjoyed The Tunnel and commend the makers on their achievement. Oren Peli you could learn a thing or two from these guys.