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The Tunnel (2011)

By Carolyn Lake.

Enjoying its world premiere on May 18 at Sydney’s Popcorn Taxi, Carlo Ledesma’s Australia indie horror flick, The Tunnel, has already garnered an audience of over seven hundred thousand, and that’s just the downloads. The brainchild of writer-producers Enzo Tedeschi and Julian Harvey, The Tunnel took an ambitious distribution approach, releasing it simultaneously for free download through BitTorrent.com and vodo.net, as well as on DVD, screenings on Showtime Premiere (pay-TV channel) and select screenings in cinemas in and around Sydney throughout June. Being lauded as Australia’s first crowd-funded feature film, The Tunnel is born out of the 135K Project: at the production cost of one dollar per frame, the producers decided to raise the $135,000 budget by allowing people to buy individual frames at one dollar each. At the time of writing 44,691 frames have been sold, a far cry from the 135,000 hoped for, but with barely been a month since its release and the publicity the film has received together with its unorthodox distribution methods have meant at least one thing: their film has been viewed by thousands the world over.

The mockumentary-style film follows a news crew as they descend into the labyrinth of old subway tunnels sitting vacant under Sydney’s CBD.  It comes after discussions during the 2007 State elections to convert the unused tunnels into a water recycling plant, but which after some initial press coverage was quickly shut down following rumours of homeless people who were there disappearing. The team, led by investigative journalist Natasha Warner (Bel Deliá) and consisting of producer, Peter Ferguson (Andy Rodoreda), sound guy, “Tangles” (Luke Arnold) and cameraman, Steve Miller (Steve Davis) follow the political cover-up until, after continually facing obstacles from the officials involved, they break in through a maintenance entrance and end up face-to-face with the cover-up’s source.

In a stroke of genius, cameraman Steve is also the film’s co-cinematographer, sharing the role with Shing Fung Cheung who took care of the interview and opening sequences. Steve Davis is a real-life cameraman, having started his career in television news in 1985. The Tunnel is his first acting role. Davis and Fung Cheung took out the Best Cinematography award at Melbourne’s 2011 Bloodfest Fantastique horror film festival, with Davis also sharing the award for Best Supporting Actor with Michael Rooker from Penance. To top it off, The Tunnel, having closed the festival, came away with the Best Film award for director Carlo Ledesma.

The rare funding and distribution methods have tended to obscure the fact that The Tunnel is actually a decent film. The two week on-location shoot in Sydney’s tunnels lend the film an eerie authenticity. And while you might at times, like all found footage horrors, be screaming at the characters to “put the freaking camera down and run!,” the increasing shift from the interviews to the found-footage as the film progresses immerses you in the danger. It is also strangely fitting to watch a film about a government cover-up after downloading it from a torrent site, as I did.  It is a slow start for a horror film, taking nearly thirty minutes (out of a ninety minute film) to actually get into the tunnels. While the first third does contribute to the development of a character arc and obviously establishes the scene, as a film using familiar mockumentary tropes (government cover-up, bunch of people with cameras, something scary lurking), I’m not convinced the lengthy exposition was entirely necessary. The interviews also ruin some of the suspense, for despite the documentary declaring that some participants refused interviews, it is known from the start who at least two of the survivors are.

The Tunnel was screened at Marché du Film during Cannes, where it was covered by Cannes Market News, The Hollywood Reporter, and supported by Producer Ted Hope (21 Grams) who gave it a guest post on his blog. Whether their economic model proves viable remains to be seen, yet as a film available for free and legal download it’s certainly worth a visit.

Carolyn Lake is a Film International ‘In the Field’ writer.

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