Starring: Bel Delia, Andy Rodoreda, Steve Davis, Luke Arnold
“We came down here to get a story, and now we’ve got an important one and you’re running scared?” (Natasha, The Tunnel)
Filmmaking can be an expensive business, even if you’re making a low-budget “found footage” effort in the style of The Blair Witch Project. Rather than wining and dining investors to get them to fund their movie, the Australian chaps behind The Tunnel decided to try something different with their “130k Project”.
They worked out that at 24 frames a second their 90-minute movie would contain around 130,000 individual frames, so after setting up a teaser trailer on their site they asked film fans to buy frames for $1 each, meaning everyone who donated could say they “owned” a piece of the movie. Click on the poster to the right to see it bigger, and you’ll see that it’s made of the names of some of the film’s early contributors. It’s a clever idea, and one that got them the funding they needed (I bought five frames myself, and while the film’s out now there are still some left). It’s a good job they got their funding, too, because The Tunnel is a brilliant little film.
Sydney’s water supplies are running low so the government reveals plans to recover and recycle a shitload of water that’s been lying in a network of abandoned train tunnels since the war. Suddenly though they decide to scrap the idea, raising the curiosity of Natasha, a TV journalist. The rumoured reason is that lots of homeless live in these tunnels and could create a problem, but Natasha isn’t convinced.
After interviewing a recently-surfaced homeless man who goes mental when the tunnel is mentioned, Natasha decides there’s more to this than meets the eye and gathers three more fellow journalists. The four of them head into the tunnels unauthorised to see if they can find out more, but they probably shouldn’t have bothered because there’s something in the tunnels, and it sure as shite isn’t a bunch of old homeless chaps.
The Tunnel is essentially a documentary in which the survivors recap the events through talking head interviews, which appear every now and then to break up the Blair Witch-style shaky “found” footage (even though it isn’t technically “found” this time, having been offered up by the survivors). Despite being fake these interviews are very convincing, thanks to the cast’s natural delivery. This realism continues throughout the found footage too – the lead actor has been a real cameraman for 25 years and spent a day teaching the others in the group how to speak the jargon of TV journalism so everything would come across as believable – a success, in my opinion.
The tension is handled just right for the most part, with the footage alternating between a camera mounted with a light for exploration and dialogue scenes, and a night vision cam for the tenser, creepier moments. Imagine if you watched The Blair Witch Project and something did actually appear a few times – that’s the sort of thing you’re dealing with here.
There are only two real negatives about The Tunnel, and unfortunately they’re big ones. The first is that so much is left unexplained it can be a bit frustrating, because having invested an hour and a half into such a well-made, tense film it’s not unreasonable to expect things to be explained somewhat.
At least The Blair Witch Project took the time to establish a Blair Witch legend at the start of the film so that when the weird shit started happening you were able to put together a somewhat logical conclusion in your mind as to what had happened. Here weird shit just happens and you’re just left there thinking “what the fuck was that all about?”. Maybe the upcoming sequel The Tunnel: Dead End will explain things a little better.
The other big let-down is the ending. The use of talking head sections throughout essentially gives away who survived, so with the outcome already known it’s up to the film to make sure that the route to that outcome is an inventive one. As it is, it’s a complete cop-out, with the heroes in grave danger and seemingly about to be killed one minute, and then the film just giving them up and having them escape fairly easily with no proper explanation as to how they managed it.
The Tunnel is 80 fantastic minutes of tension followed by a severe case of what’s known in Glasgow as “the arse collapsing”, with an imagination-free final ten minutes bottling what could have been a spectacular conclusion. The build-up and tension created throughout are incredible, but the overall feel of the film is soured a little by a hugely disappointing ending. That aside, everything leading up to the end still leaves something of a lasting impression and as such it’s still definitely one of the better “found footage” films of recent times.
WHERE CAN I SEE IT?
The Tunnel is out on DVD this Monday 6 August. It’s only £6 on Amazon and is a real labour of love, with a (slightly better) alternative ending and a massive hour-long documentary essentially showing how the film was put together – it’s really interesting stuff for anyone interested in low-budget filmmaking.