The Tunnel (‘Tunnelen’ in its original) is a Norwegian disaster film in which people on their way home for Christmas are trapped inside the titular tunnel when a truck carrying gas crashes and soon after explodes a few kilometres beyond its East entrance, filling the tunnel with deadly smoke and darkness, killing many of those trying to flee and trapping others in their vehicles under the mountain. Its a very well-crafted film and convincingly staged, but ultimately becomes undermined by a script that is handicapped by collapsing into predictable melodrama.
Clearly inspired (or indebted to) Hollywood disaster movies, the human element is pure soap opera: when the hero of the film, Stein (Thorbjørn Harr), who works for the emergency services, discovers his daughter Elise is trapped inside the tunnel he is forced to disobey his superiors and go in on his own. There’s a subplot to this regards his dead wife who his daughter is mourning and Stein’s new girlfriend, Ingrid (Lisa Carlehed, whose facial similarity to English actress Julia Ormond in some shots kept distracting me). Elise refuses to accept Ingrid and despises her for ‘replacing’ her mother, which has caused Elise, following another argument with her father, to run away from home and thus get trapped in the tunnel. So there’s all that emotional tension between guilty father and angry daughter and flashbacks to the ill mother and then Ingrid and Elise eventually finding a connection when Ingrid puts her own life at risk and gets involved in rescuing her…(all this while the authorities are waiting for the ‘proper’ rescue team to get up a mountain pass blocked by a snowfall/avalanche).
Its funny- had this been set in the Colorado mountains or something and starred Dwayne Johnson it might have been an elevated b-movie but it might have been a guilty pleasure. Its funny how America has made this kind of nonsense its own, especially with larger-than-life stars like Willis, Stallone etc. its a genre that’s almost built-in with its own excuses and critical ‘get out of jail’ card that gets it a free pass (almost). Transplanted to a European setting and what is usually a more muted, realistic European cinema/television it just feels a little ‘off’. The film pads out the story by also introducing several minor characters who will be ‘victims’ trapped in the tunnel or staff manning the phones of the emergency services but they are pretty much all unlikeable and fairly redundant, really. We are shown their struggles and pain and sometimes their deaths but we don’t care as much the film-makers intend us to do, and we know how the main plotline of Stein, Elise and Ingrid is going to turn out.
Currently streaming on Amazon Prime, this is by no means a terrible film- it is really fairly competent and a diverting way to spend a few hours. I always find a certain appeal of watching European films is seeing something that looks freshly different from the usual Western (okay, ‘American’) setting; glimpses of a different culture and architecture offer at the very least a visual novelty. Usually its accompanied by a similarly enjoyable arthouse, less popcorn sensibility so its unfortunate that this is an example of European cinema so clearly mimicking Hollywood tropes. Mind, perhaps only European cinema could so vividly prove how dangerous discarded carrier bags can be.