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Review: The Tunnel Lazily Follows the Disaster Movie Playbook to a Tee

The film lacks for the methodically escalating stakes that makes the best examples of the genre so entertaining.

1.5
The Tunnel

Pål Øie’s The Tunnel is the latest in a recent wave of Norwegian disaster films, this one revolving around the effects of a tanker truck crashing and exploding inside a mountainous underpass. The crash traps a traffic jam’s worth of cars inside the tunnel, which, like most in Norway, has no emergency exists or rooms. That’s according to the opening on-screen text, which also states that tunnel safety in the country is based on self-support, meaning that “it’s your own responsibility to get out.” Not exactly a sound infrastructure plan, but it sure whets the appetite for some good ol’ fashioned cinematic destruction. Sadly, though, The Tunnel seems strangely uninterested in taking full advantage of its premise.

The setup follows the disaster film playbook to a tee. As a blizzardy Christmas dawns on the rural region of Vik, we’re introduced to a motley crew of locals, less people than pawns to be steered toward their potential doom. Chief among them is Stein (Thorbjørn Harr), a widowed firefighter and tunnel operator, and his daughter, Elise (Ylva Lyng Fuglerud). Frustrated with her father’s lack of paternal attention, Elise rebels by hopping on a bus to Oslo to stay with relatives, eventually ending up stuck in the tunnel at precisely the wrong moment. And since nothing heals a broken family like a life-or-death situation, Stein endeavors to physically and emotionally reconnect with his daughter as he navigates his way through smoke and falling concrete, led remotely by intrepid road traffic controller Andrea (Ingvild Holthe Bygdnes).

Meanwhile, the film, which is practically a remake of Rob Cohen’s Daylight, weaves in and out of the narratives of its secondary characters: two young girls who’ve been separated from their parents; a jerk-off businessman speeding down the snowy roads to get his son to the school play; the careless truck drivers who triggered the mayhem; and a group of out-of-their-depth emergency responders. Devoted as it is to the aesthetics of Hollywood disaster movies from the 1990s, Øie keeps the mood deadly somber and melodramatic throughout, often risking self-parody. This is a movie where one character remarks that a winter storm is obviously fast approaching and another nonchalantly replies, “It’ll never hit us,” without a trace of irony.

This was the same approach employed by The Wave and The Quake, but those films succeeded by serving up their inherent cheesiness alongside tense, Emmerich-sized shows of destruction. By contrast, once The Tunnel gets past the momentarily pulse-quickening initial truck crash (not since American Beauty has a floating plastic bag been used to such dramatic effect), the filmmakers never really up the ante again for the rest of the running time, turning the film’s second half into a one-note slog where the trapped victims sit around waiting to be rescued. Without a set of methodically escalating stakes that makes the best examples of the genre so effortlessly entertaining, The Tunnel’s climactic emergence from the darkness feels less like a thrilling gasp of air and more like the final item on a list to be dutifully checked off.

Cast: Thorbjørn Harr, Ylva Lyng Fuglerud, Lisa Carlehed, Ingvild Holthe Bygdnes, Mikkel Bratt Silset, Per Egil Aske Director: Pål Øie Screenwriter: Kjersti Helen Rasmussen Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films Running Time: 105 min Rating: NR Year: 2019 Buy: Video

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