By Jason Lin
A dance party in a dark and creepy mine might be a major fascination for teenagers who are constantly pursuing some of the most unconventional lifestyles. It is also a likely premise for a horror thriller to trap multiple naïve adolescents for some genre entertainment, which The Tunnel failed to deliver.
Starring Korean up-and-coming popular stars, including Jung Yu-mi (Rooftop Prince), Yeon Woo-jin (When a Man Falls in Love) and Soung Jae-lim (Moon Embracing the Sun), Kpop girl group members Min Do Hee (Tiny-G) and Woo Hee (DalShabet), THE TUNNEL tells a story of a group of friends who kill an old man by accident. They decide to throw away the body in the coal mine, but get caught inside the dark tunnels facing the buried horrors within. Will they be able to escape out of the dark tunnel?
Throwing in the third dimension treatment and South Korean horror fans were treated to The Tunnel by Park Gyu-taek, which was released natively last year. The film has reached Singapore this week but will (fortunately) not be offered in the 3D format with good reasons for this to be so. There were not many scenes observed in the 2D viewing that were designed to elevate fear in any manner whatsoever.
The concept of a 3D horror film typically excites genre fans. Strangely, not many recent horror releases had been adopting such treatment. This might be due to business dynamics but from the viewers’ perspective, scenes must benefit from 3D treatment and should not be rendered in 3D just because the filmmakers have the resources and means to.
Weak exposition opens the film that leads a group of fun-seeking teenagers to a dance party at an old and seemingly inactive mine. The film establishes briefly that a luxury resort will be opening near the mine, where the mine will be converted into an experience centre for visitors to understand the history and past activities of mining.
A screenplay convenience by Yu Se-mun scribes one of the teenagers as the son of the mine owner – Young-min (Lee Jae-hee), a stereotypical spoilt brat who acts without any consideration of consequences. Adding in conventional traits such as infidelity (which involves a brief sexual scene of his girlfriend’s pal and him in a car that drew a blank), his character is a standard template without surprises.
With the exception of the female lead Eun-joo (Jeong Yu-mi), the rest of the supporting cast sadly served either as plot devices or genre deliverables. Evidently, the screenplay was focused on Eun-joo’s character and relied heavily on her to bring the film forward to a closure.
The film’s lacklustre storyline leveraged mostly on hallucinations induced by carbon monoxide poisoning in the mine to rationalise all supernatural moments. These were constructed by cheap scare techniques that only spurred spiked moments of fright without any lasting fear.
With a promising premise where characters are trapped within a dark and eerie mine, the filmmakers could have struck visceral fear within their audience by building up a dreadful sense of claustrophobic desperation from the thinning of oxygen.
Wrapping the production up in a rush with a plot twist, it doesn’t justify the film’s proceedings adequately to the audience’s satisfaction. What started off as a horror film confusingly became a mystery thriller that seeks revenge from past grievances – a mixed bag of genre elements that reflects a severe identity crisis.
Akin to how most sane people steer clear of old and abandoned mines full of atmospheric toxic particles, viewers are advised to enter The Tunnel at their own risk.
(Preview courtesy of InCinemas. Also published on InCinemas.)