The Tunnel – A disaster movie of two halves


The Tunnel is available to rent or buy on all major platforms April 9th

It should be the happiest season of all as a small Norwegian town gets ready for the Christmas break. However, festivities are put on hold when disaster strikes in a mountain tunnel. Pål Øie’s polished disaster film follows several great Norwegian disaster flicks ranging from The Quake to The Wave. But, how does The Tunnel measure up when compared to its disaster cousins? The good news is that Øie’s movie continues a rich legacy that has seen Norway challenge Hollywood in the disaster genre. However, we also have a film of two halves; the first simmering with tension, while the second falls into tried and tested tropes of the genre.

The setting is one of the 1,100 tunnels that cross Norway, each long, narrow and dark as they burrow through the mountains in their path. With Christmas celebrations well underway as a snowstorm sets in, we meet Stein (Thornjørn Harr), a tough firefighter and tunnel maintenance man recently widowed. His teenage daughter Elise (Ylva Fuglerud) struggling to come to terms with her dad’s new girlfriend, Ingrid (Lisa Carlehad). But, as Stein begins to think the Christmas break is in sight, a tanker crashes in the tunnel. Its fuel igniting into a devastating fireball that engulfs the travellers held in its darkness. And to make things worse, Elise is one of those caught in its fiery fury. And so begins a mission to rescue those alive in the depths of the tunnel and reunite a firefighting father with his angry daughter.

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The Tunnel is careful to stick to a tried and tested disaster movie format. Its opening scenes introducing us to a range of characters, each busily heading toward the tunnel while thinking of Christmas. And it is within the slow march toward the catastrophe that The Tunnel finds its feet; each character allowed space to define their role in the oncoming disaster. Equally, when we reach the point of no return, cinematography, pace and performances step up in reflecting the horror of events. The tunnel’s claustrophobia brilliantly brought to the screen as smoke and fire billow down its carved walls, engulfing cars, trucks and vans.

Despite this powerful start, The Tunnel takes a wrong turn as the rescue takes centre stage. Many characters unceremoniously ditched as the story shifts. Their initial story arc cancelled as space runs out in the narrative. Part of the problem is that The Tunnel quickly diverts from a multi-character piece into an indulgent family reconciliation and reunion drama. And while some disaster films manage this balance well, for example, The Day After Tomorrow. The Tunnel has already built up a disparate multi-character platform by the time it switches focus. The result of which leaves many of its characters lost with nowhere to go. Equally, the rescue becomes a one-person show in enabling a father, daughter reunion. The remaining firefighters left, pacing around the tunnel entrance.

However, even with these weaknesses, the first half of The Tunnel does carry something most Hollywood disaster flicks are void of, tension. And despite its weaker second half, it remains a thoroughly enjoyable if quickly forgotten disaster drama. It may not be the strongest Norweigian disaster film we have seen, but it remains engaging throughout, despite never reaching its full potential.