Watched Aug 09, 2012
Jeremy Heilman’s review:
From a plot perspective, Carlo Ledesma’s The Tunnel might sound like a mundane retread of recent creature features such as Creep or The Descent, but it manages to be something a bit more haunting in practice. Presented not strictly as found footage, but rather as a fake documentary, complete with talking heads, the format allows for more character development than is usual in first-person horror films. While the approach works most cleverly in a scene in which a character listens to the recording of a colleague’s death for the first time (recalling Herzog’s Grizzly Man), the choice is perhaps most important because it generates empathy for the cast of future victims. Indeed, watching the talking heads of the cast members recount their botched expedition into the transit tunnels below Sydney creates a level of distance from the scares, allowing us to see how the tortured survivors are coping, even before we are aware of the threat they face. It’s an odd effect for a contemporary horror film, though it is probably a necessary one, given that The Tunnel is a generally predictable affair with little tension and very few jump scares along the way.
This isn’t to imply that director Ledesma is incapable of generating scares. He simply seems to be after something a bit more nuanced and realistic. The monsters that chase the cast are scarcely glimpsed and the prevailing visual strategy here is obfuscation. The dark corridors that the characters stumble around in give us only hints about the creatures that live there. As a result, many of the film’s biggest scares spring from the well-crafted soundtrack. This is an approach that might have been decided upon out of budgetary concerns, but it pays off by creating a greater sense of dread than any CG monster they could have put on screen.
The Tunnel demonstrates that first-person perspective horror films need not sacrifice scripting and characterization in their quests for visceral thrills. Ledesma’s measured approach here relies upon imagination as much as a shaky camera. The Tunnel, like the similarly disturbing Australian horror mockumentary Lake Mungo, suggests that the framing device of a documentary film allows the first-person horror movie to gain resonance that it loses when it attempts to put us in the moment. In any case, The Tunnel is surprisingly successful, if not groundbreaking. And if the film’s biggest scare rips off The Blair Witch Project’s legendary final scene, one can scarcely fault the filmmakers for stealing from the best.