The Tunnel – an engaging but quickly forgotten disaster film

Tunnelen

FILM AND TV

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

Rating: 3 out of 5.

It should be the happiest time of the year as a small Norwegian town prepares for Christmas. 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 compared to its disaster cousins? The good news is that Øie’s movie continues a rich legacy that has seen Norway challenge Hollywood tropes in the disaster genre. However, we also have a film of two halves, the first simmering with tension and the second failing to maintain the claustrophobic terror.

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. Christmas celebrations are well underway as we meet Stein (Thornjørn Harr), a tough firefighter and tunnel maintenance man recently widowed. Meanwhile, Stein’s teenage daughter Elise (Ylva Fuglerud) struggles 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 at the heart of one of the tunnels, its fuel igniting a devastating fireball that engulfs the travellers held in the darkness. But to make things even worse, his daughter Elise is one of those caught in its fiery fury.


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The Tunnel carefully sticks to the tried and tested disaster movie narrative, its opening scenes introducing us to various characters heading toward a festive disaster. Here, within the slow march toward the catastrophe, The Tunnel finds its feet, with each character allowed space to define their role in the oncoming disaster. When we reach the point of no return, cinematography, pace, and performances step up to the mark, reflecting the horror of the events unfolding. Here The Tunnel plays with a sense of claustrophobia as smoke and fire billow down its carved walls, engulfing cars, trucks and vans.

However, despite this strong start, The Tunnel takes a wrong turn as the rescue takes centre stage. Here, many characters are unceremoniously ditched at the side of the road as the story abruptly shifts. The film’s final half sees The Tunnel quickly divert from a multi-character narrative into an indulgent story of family reconciliation and reunion. Equally, the rescue becomes a one-person show enabling the reunion of a father and daughter and a fragmented family.

However, even with these weaknesses, the first half of The Tunnel carries something most Hollywood disaster flicks are void of; tension. As a result, it remains a thoroughly enjoyable, if quickly forgotten, disaster drama. The Tunnel may not be the strongest Norweigian disaster film I have seen, but it remains engaging throughout, despite never reaching its full potential.


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