It’s near-impossible to discuss The Tunnel without addressing the inherent gimmickry. It’s a singularly unusual film, not just because of its content, but also because of the history behind its creation. Funded directly through fan contributions via what became known as The 135K Project ($135,00 being the estimated budget), The Tunnel was created through voluntary contributions. Then, to make things even more unusual, it was released entirely for free, via Bittorent. It’s an impressive undertaking and an intriguing set of ideas, one that makes for worthwhile conversation before we even begin talking about the film itself. It’s been garnering minor attention over the course of its development from several movie sites (we showed a couple of their trailers as well), and on May 19th, it was finally released. DVD copies are available for purchase, though viewers can still legally and freely obtain the film through torrent downloading.
All of that finally brings us to the film itself. The entire endeavor would ultimately be judged by the end product, and if the film results in failure, than the project, and any potential resulting trends, would be leveled. It’s an idea that, if it works, has the potential to subvert the traditional studio film making model, and that’s an idea that’s worth pursuing in and of itself, but the film still needs to stand on its own. After spending a brisk 90 minutes with the it, I’m happy to report that the result is quite impressive, regardless of budget, marketing or innovative fundraising effort.
The Tunnel, directed by Australian film maker Carlo Ledesma and written by Enzo Tedeschi and Julian Harvey, is the story of an investigative news team — reporter Natasha (Bel Deliá), producer Peter (Andy Rodoreda), cameraman Steve (Steve Davis), and sound man Tangles (Luke Arnold), as they explore the ancient, dilapidated tunnels that run beneath the surface of Sydney’s streets. Prompted by a government project to tap into underground water resources via this network of tunnels, Natasha aggressively seeks to find more information about the closely guarded project which is eventually quietly abandoned by the powers that be. The story is made more tantalizing by the fact that there are reports of homeless people dwelling in this warren of underground alleyways, and more disturbing reports that they have been steadily disappearing — two items that the government refuses to recognize.
Once down there, the group is beset by the expected scary sounds and cryptic clues, unaware that the deeper they descend, the greater the danger, until finally one of the party is ripped away from them by an unseen assailant. What follows is a surprisingly effective, intense and harrowing exploration as they try to recover their lost friend and coworker, all the while being stalked by an unknown entity with a voracious appetite for mayhem. To tell any more would be to spoil the experience, but suffice it to say that the overall effect is extremely satisfying and enjoyable.
The film is played as a straight-up documentary, with cuts of the cast being interviewed about their experiences interspersed with footage they took while underground. It’s an interesting and much less frustrating take on the “found footage” idea, and for the most part it works seamlessly. The idea is that The Tunnel is a slickly produced documentary that’s similar in nature to television shows like “Ghost Hunters,” only with far darker and more dire events transpiring. It’s bolstered by an meticulously researched introduction, wherein Natasha talks about the in-depth investigation she undertook before they enter the tunnels. There’s an astonishing attention to detail as they discuss the history of the tunnels (which actually exist and where filming took place), and it deftly weaves truth, fiction and speculation into a fascinating tapestry.
What was more of a surprise was that a good portion of the film is dedicated to that buildup, with only the final 50 minutes or so actually transpiring underground. Once down there, however, things quickly escalate and the tension and sense of gnawing dread is executed with cleverness and creativity. Given the film’s lack of budget, they opt for an emphasis on atmospherics and lighting, creating an air of both fascination and nervousness that quickly descends into a terse, frantic nightmare. The assailant is never fully seen, something that is frustrating in some films but works here, and there’s a pleasant focus on the characters themselves, furthered by the post-event interview footage which allows for a more complete picture of each of the players. The post-interviews, interspersed with the gruesome events that are never quite explained, work well to keep the audience intrigued and busy trying to figure out just what the hell is going on.
But the true star of the film is the tunnels themselves, which were used for location shooting. Dark, grimy, filled with graffiti and scattered, aged detritus, the tunnels evolve into their own characters. The ambiance created by these creepy surroundings accentuates the atmosphere, and is interrupted only by the occasional blip of interview footage, and sparsely used, effectively moody music. It’s reminiscent of films like Session 9, using real existing places to effectively give life to a setting that a stage could never achieve.
The film has its flaws — the crew falls for a couple of the classic horror movie eye-rollers —never looking for weapons, screaming when they should be quiet, and of course, simple poor planning. Yet despite all of that, the four main characters acquit themselves well, and their decisions mostly feel like logical ones — the actions that a terrified, trapped group of explorers would take when faced with such unforeseen and horrifying events.
The Tunnel is certainly worth more than it’s $135,000 budget, and while the story doesn’t exactly break new ground, it’s so smartly done and creatively managed that it makes for an affecting, engaging and enjoyably scary exercise.
The Tunnel is available for free via its website, The Tunnel Movie.