Several of the more popular (and even lesser-known) "found footage" horror films draw comparisons to The Blair Witch Project (yes, still), and that's because it was the first of its kind to use the "faux doco leads to fake but realistically creepy-looking footage" gimmick. Most of those films don't really warrant the comparison, but here's one that absolutely does -- for better or for worse. It's a low-budget Aussie import called The Tunnel, and it has so many strong assets in its corner that it makes one wish it hadn't stuck quite so closely to the Blair Witch template. Aside from the accents, the intentions, and the location, The Tunnel could be a virtual remake of The Blair Witch Project: the cocksure trio who delve into a place they shouldn't; several disturbing clues that are left stupidly unheeded; several scenes of gritty chills in which you'll squint to catch a glimpse of the antagonist; and all the emotional baggage that's apparently necessary when your film has to hold the true horror until its final scenes. Still and all, The Tunnel isn't half bad. Well-shot and cleverly presented, backed by three strong performances and a truly ominous location, it's just cool enough to let us overlook the familiarity, the lack of good sense, and a weird musical score that has no place in the flick whatsoever.
The plot sees a journalist and her crew delving deep into the underground sewer system of Sydney, in the hopes of finding a juicy story about homeless people who have gone missing. Director Carlos Ledesma gives us an appreciable dose of worthwhile character development, and then we're off to Act II ... deep underground. Natasha and her three male colleagues wander from one foreboding cavern to another ... a few strange noises call out from the distance ... and then one of the guys goes missing. And then another. Helplessly lost, Natasha starts to realize that she and her friends are being stalked by someone, well, someone large. And since the camera is the only real source of viable light, we're treated to one freaky night in the Australian underground.
Although comparable in style to Blair Witch and the vastly superior [REC], The Tunnel makes the odd mistake of offering us running interviews with two of the news crew ... thereby telling us whon survived (and who didn't) and sucking a good deal of tension out of the tunnel "footage." Perhaps the flick was too short, maybe the actors wanted a bit more to do than just wander through dark hallways, but having two characters describe the scary stuff (right before or after it happens) is a weird way to tell a horror tale. To his credit, Ledesma still does wring a few legitimate chills from the material -- one sequence involving audio headphones is effectively novel; another involving a mysterious cameraman is just plain old scary -- and once the slightly slow flick starts to pick up pace, it does offer some jolts in quick and enjoyable order.
It's hard to imagine that the filmmakers would be offended by the "Blair Witch underground" comparison (hell, The Tunnel even has that tear-strewn "I'm so sorry!" speech), but while the flick doesn't do much that's new or novel with the "found footage" gimmick, it does offer a great location, some strong performances from a small cast, and a few darkly clever ideas that come across rather well. Plus A bit familiar to the serious horror freaks, to be sure, but all in all not a bad effort for a mini-budgeted fan-funded genre project. Hey horror fans, you can download the flick (for free and legally) by checking out The Tunnel's official site. Not a bad deal.