The Tunnel

Inside the tunnel

In the opening moments of The Tunnel, an onscreen notice informs us that there are over 1,100 tunnels in Norway, and that, in the event of an emergency situation in any one of them, it’s really just a case of every person for themselves. There have been eight major fires in recent years, we’re further informed. Guess what’s about to happen?

The Tunnel is a disaster movie happy to stick to the formula laid down in the ancient texts like The Poseidon Adventure. And so it is that in The Tunnel a group of people going about their every lives is suddenly subjected to an extreme ordeal testing their physical and moral endurance. Some will fare better than others. A hero will emerge, who is usually obvious from the get-go. And someone will be exposed as a snivelling coward and selfish bastard – see Richard Chamberlain in The Towering Inferno – and fate will reward that behaviour appropriately.

This being a modern iteration of the disaster movie, the hero will also be a lone voice who has up to this point been crying in the wilderness, certain that precisely this disaster was heading this way. And there’ll also be a bit of family estrangement which the disaster has a hand in sorting out (The Day After Tomorrow, San Andreas).

The Tunnel ticks all the boxes. It’s also a Norwegian disaster movie and so it sits neatly alongside 2015’s The Wave (jeopardy: a tsunami up a fjord) and 2018’s The Quake (Oslo hit by a gigantic earthquake). “Neatly” means that though the disaster formula is followed to the letter, the “sell” is that this is a human drama first and foremost. In the likes of San Andreas and The Day After Tomorrow the special effects could sometimes get in the way.

Plot? A snowplough driver having parenting issues with his teenage daughter – her mother died and she thinks he’s “moved on” a bit too quickly – is called out when a fire in a 9km tunnel traps an assorted bunch of people. The action revolves between in there, out here and off at a control centre, where a single switchboard operator attempts to co-ordinate the first two. Among the people “in there” are truck drivers, a bus laden with passengers, and a family comprising two parents and their kids. The kids have a hamster. “Out here” are reliably Viking-bearded, clearsighted snowplough driver Stein (Thorbjørn Harr, of TV series Vikings), whingey uppity colleague Ivar (Mikkel Bratt Silset), who’s constantly jockeying for position and believes he knows better than everyone else, plus various other rescue workers, concerned parties etc.

Daughter Elise and father Stein
Daughter and father: it’s not all strife

Manning the phones is Andrea (Ingvild Holthe Bygdnes), who will become more important as the film progresses and is one of The Tunnel’s claims to humanity. The “this time it’s personal” element of jeopardy comes from the fact that, unbeknown to Stein, his antsy daughter Elise (Yiva Lyng Fuglerud) is also in the tunnel, where, chip off the old block, she is attempting to do what she can for the frightened folk being subjected to trial by fire, heat, smoke, fire, more smoke and explosion.

There is one more significant location: a diner/roadside pull-in, where an entitled Tesla-driving representative of the elite is bridling at the fact that he can’t get through the tunnel and is giving his son a hard time. The child, dressed as Joseph, was trying to get to his nativity play, this all happening in the run-up to Christmas.

Jeopardy is met by bravery and resourcefulness or cowardice and defeatism and director Pål Øie works his way through the disaster movie playbook, skilfully sewing together the familiar elements and quite possibly wondering whether he’s overdoing the smoke, which is so dense that for much of the film it’s hard to work out what exactly is going on.

Is technical competence enough? Yes, it mostly is, and the characters, ciphers though they are, are played with conviction. Plus, Øie summons the sense of claustrophobia well, contrasting the dark impenetrability of the tunnel with the white expanses of mountainous landscape outside. And there’s a big emotional payoff at the end, when, disaster survived (or not), the story returns to the people on the sidelines. As for the hamster… 

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© Steve Morrissey 2022

The Tunnel

Bel Deliá and a dead person in The Tunnel


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



2 August


Tower Subway opens, 1870

On this day in 1870, the Tower Subway opened in London, UK. Running under the River Thames between Tower Hill on the north bank and Tooley Street on the south, it is a 1,340 foot (410m) tunnel and was the first built under a river expressly to carry a train. Though it caused a lot of excitement at the time, the tunnel was only narrow, at just over 6.5 feet (2.026m) wide, and its tiny train did not have much room for passengers. The company that built it went bust and the tunnel closed at the end of the year it had opened, though it re-opened shortly afterwards as a foot tunnel. This was popular, though narrow – “it is not advisable for any but the very briefest of Her Majesty’s lieges to attempt the passage in high-heeled boots, or with a hat to which he attaches any particular value,” wrote Charles Dickens after using it. In 1897, suffering a loss of traffic after a toll-less Tower Bridge opened just down the river three years before, it closed again. It was at first used for hydraulic power. Now it is used for water mains and telecoms cables.




The Tunnel (2011, dir: Carlo Ledesma)

The mock-doc horror movie has proved to be remarkably resilient, rumours of its death having been on the wind even as The Blair Witch Project was first taking wing. The Tunnel clearly owes a debt to the 1999 movie, but that isn’t a bad thing when it’s done this well. The story is a fairly straightforward one and it elegantly entirely justifies the constant presence of a camera – often a credulity-straining presence in this sort of film. Yes I’m thinking of Cloverfield. Because the group of unlucky souls we are following are an Australian news crew entering a network of disused tunnels to find out whether the stories of homeless people disappearing down there are true. The tunnels, it seems, are about to be converted into some vast underground water storage facility. And that’s all you need to know before plunging in yourself. What you’ll find is a film that has arrived late at the mock-doc party and a director (Carlo Ledesma) and writers (Enzo Tedeschi, Julian Harvey) who know they’re going to be judged to a much more exacting standard than the mock-dockers who have gone before. The conceit they wheel out being that we’re watching a post-event assemblage of material, put together for broadcast purposes – so interviews with the survivors, plus bits of YouTube and plenty of CCTV are spliced into the standard handycam footage of… well let’s just say bad stuff.
Whether we need convincing this much, I’m not sure, but the actors add another layer of believability. They’re uniformly excellent, notably Bel Deliá as a punchy, no-nonsense newshound. One of the others, Steve Davis, is in fact a cameraman and the footage we’re watching is the footage he shot. None of this would matter – nor would the fact that the film debuted on BitTorrent with viewers invited to pay what they thought it was worth – if the film wasn’t any good. But it is good, and is even confident enough to do not very much at all for a considerable amount of time (see: The Exorcist and Paranormal Activity for some reasons why this is a good idea) until bits of equipment start disappearing and someone suddenly goes missing.
The great advantage of low-budget shooting methods is that you don’t need to worry too much about special effects. And with the low light levels you’d naturally expect to find in tunnels, it doesn’t take much to generate proper “boo” shocks. Kudos to the writing/production team for deciding to shoot in subterranean Sydney, and for sticking hard to their original rationale. The result is a grim, creepy and atmospheric horror film worth watching at night in the dark on your own.



Why Watch?


  • The crazy BitTorrent angle
  • The believable cast
  • The no-budget inventiveness
  • It’s scary


© Steve Morrissey 2014



The Tunnel – Watch it now at Amazon