I thought I’d seen the last well-made found footage movie when I watched The Bay. The found footage aesthetic has been exhausted by hack horror film makers since The Blair Witch Project. That’s why I was so surprised when The Tunnel, a 2011 found footage movie from Australia, almost hit the same heights.
In 2007, the Australian government planned to tap into the disused rail tunnels below Sydney and utilise the water contained within. Vast lakes containing millions of gallons of water could be farmed and go some stretch to relieve the city, which was undergoing a huge water shortage. When this plan was scrapped within a year, a journalist sought the answers as to why.
Newsreels and interviews begin to tell the story, and instead of trying to establish characters for 30 minutes, the filmmakers throw us straight into the plot. Concise, pacey storytelling works much better in found footage movies; it’s harder to suspend disbelief if the characters are the filmmakers with the cameras. We are more likely to question character motives and plot nuances if we are supposed to believe the story is true. The Tunnel moves so fast it’s almost impossible to think about what is happening. Once the film crew go down into the tunnels, the filmmaker inside me let out a little cheer when they made a point of showing the sound man recording room tone, something any respected film crew would have to do.
It wouldn’t be a found footage movie without its fair share of jump scares, which we have discussed as being a cheap horror tactic, but the third act makes up for this. The tension and atmosphere is so overwhelming it becomes pleasantly uncomfortable. The darkness of the tunnels and a reliance on their equipment to provide light really got me on board with the characters. I initially thought the female lead was monotonous, but that was established as a result of the what happened in the tunnels and we see her true personality come out in the second and third acts.
The payoff in found footage films is never as satisfying as a conventional narrative but The Tunnel has quite an exciting ramp into the end. Despite the script being slightly clunky at times, overall the screenplay was engaging, which resulted in a found footage film that was never a chore or boring to watch.
Overall, The Tunnel is one of the better entries into the sub genre of found footage horror. It didn’t hit the heights of The Bay, however I’d consider it a success.