Some horror films will scare the shit out you, others might not, whichever it is it’s usually down to two factors. The film makers ability to put you in a position of fear and your susceptibility as an audience member to be taken in. To be truly taken into the realms of said film requires an entry point. Some film makers use characters that mirror cliche types that have been in horror movies since the birth of motion pictures, cliches that change slightly with the times, but remain relatable to the demographic of the film.
Another way is to portray events that seem realistic, so real that as soon as the lights dim in the theatre or your home you are drawn into this world that you instantly recognise, a world not much different – if at all – from the one you reside in right now. If the film maker, most importantly a horror film maker, can get you into their movie in the first five minutes and hold you in a state of ‘What will come next?’ then they will keep you in for the entire movie. They must build suspension and fear and this is a whole lot easier if you have the audience in the palm of your hand. The film might not be any good, but if you can give them a god scare, then they’ll remember you.
In 1999 Blair Witch reminded people of a technique that had been used in movies and other mediums to draw in an audience. Just tell them it was real. Making a horror film and convincing the audience that what they are watching is real elevates the factors of fear to such a high level and making the unsuspected all the more possible. It seemed fresh at the time although not original, but what elevated it to a new status was the power of the internet and the use of it to market a low budget independent film. This was in a time long before Facebook and twitter, myspace and youtube, this was in a time before word could spread via social networks, but it still managed to gain the attention it needed. Some would say that Blair Witch killed independent creativity in film, others would disagree and state that it only re-invigorated it, birthing an entire generation of film makers who hadn’t even heard their calling. It used to be that you needed some fancy camera work, well lit cinematography and actors who could get into a character and portray them in a believable manner, now you could go out with an easily accessible camera with some friends and make a horror film. It reminded some of older B movies, genre pieces that were made by friends on a shoestring budget, except, you’d hardly get the chance to see those films on a big screen except for maybe at a midnight movie double bill. No, this was very different. Blair Witch launched a million ripples in a million lakes almost as a calling to budding film makers to go and make their movie on whatever they could.
Few films followed in the footsteps and even fewer succeeded where Blair Witch had once reigned, after all, if you made a horror film where the POV is from a realistic standpoint, or you tried to call it ‘found footage’, it would immediately be compared to Blair Witch, despite there being a plethora of films before it to do the same thing. Lately the style of ‘found footage’ has been making something of a comeback, probably due to the notion that you can already see some horrific stuff online with the rise of youtube and other such sights, and that consumer bought cameras can capture an image close to that of a fully fledged film crew. With the rise of home computers that are more powerful than those used to create the special effects for Jurassic Park and the urge for audiences to be taken to places of fear and terror, into worlds not to dissimilar that their own but with a squirt if something other-worldly. Cloverfield was the found footage monster movie. REC was the found footage zombie movie and Paranormal Activity was the found footage haunted house movie. All of these films different in substance, but the same in style. There are many, many others, but too many to name here and serve no purpose in this discussion.
The Tunnel Movie is no different from these films, it takes elements from all found footage movies, inspired by what has come before and attempt to tread some new ground. Presented in the manner of an actual documentary, it’s one of the best looking films of late. Using talking head interviews with the survivors of the incident in The Tunnels, sets up the story and they give a running commentary of the mindset they were in whilst in that situation. This is where the film will wins or fail for the audience. We know which characters survive what we are witnessing, thus our fear levels are dropped when they appear to be in any sort of danger. We know who will go missing and who will not. At the same time the tension is still pretty high for those who don’t make it, much like the films Touching the Void and 127 Hours, we already know the ending, they survive, but that doesn’t mean that the devastating journey the protagonist has to take is less effective, it just means we know we can finally breathe again when they make it to the end. For some it won’t work, they won’t connect to the idea of the films narrators being in danger in the film, for they know that they are not in any real danger as they have to survive to tell the story, but what it does do well is provide a narrative that makes the film feel all the more true. It structured like the best of documentaries which is where they are making paths to a new layout of these found footage films, opening up the idea that a story can be told to the viewer and all the much better if the story is told by someone whom was involved in the incident.
The actors nailed their characters, bringing realistic behaviours and natural attitudes in the face of fear. My only issue was with having the second camera shooting night vision. It’s not terrible, but only used as a device to lengthen the running moments and a few creepy scares here and there. I personally would have sufficed with the one camera view, Cloverfield style, but understand the use of the second camera might have been necessary to provide some of the other moments that would not have been able to be captured with the broadcast camera.
I have read in a few places that people had issues with the score and that a score has no place in a film like this. I say boo to the nay-sayers. This is not your regular found footage film as it is closer to a documentary style film than most and documentaries have almost always had scores. The music works well in a cliche horror type way, building up the tension when need be.
But is it scary? I personally didn’t find it terrifying – to give you something of a measurement, I found The Orphanage one of the creepiest films in recent years – but I can certainly see that some people will be watching this movie through the gaps in the clasped hands over their eyes. The setting is a perfect catalyst for those with a fear of tight spaces and dimly lit rooms and serves well for the times of frantic running from whatever the hell it is that’s creeping around in those tunnels. There was one specific moment when I did jump, completely caught off-guard, but the heart racing only lasted for milliseconds.
Overall the film is worth watching. It may not have much repeat viewing, but if you are a fan of films that try hard to creep you out and scare you, there is certainly something here for you.
The Tunnel Movie has also achieved something else in the medium of film. It has been released via DVD, Bit-torrent and also a small theatrical release. You can choose to buy it, you can choose to see it in a multiplex (if it’s playing) or you can download it for free. Check out their site at www.thetunnelmovie.net for details and how you can support the film makers. It’s not a giant leap forward in terms of distribution as this sort of thing has been happening over at http://vodo.net/ for a while now, but its good to see more and more films begin adopting this model, to give the viewer the choice of how they see the movie and the chance to help support a film they’ve enjoyed. Its a model that been used by some musicians for some time now and with Kevin Smiths Red State re-awakening some indie film makers, times-are-a-changing and it certainly won’t be long before the big studios have no choice but to adopt and adapt.
The Tunnel Movie might not make a giant splash in the lake of modern cinema, but checking out their download numbers and how many people are viewing the film, they are certainly going to have some ripples floating on the surface for some time.