The Tunnel (Tunnelen) is the third Norwegian disaster film I’ve seen. There’s The Wave and The Quake (both of which star Kristoffer Joner who is just a great watch) and if I had to rank the three then The Tunnel is definitely the weakest but it’s by no means a bad watch.
The set up is reminiscent of the Sylvester Stallone disaster movie Daybreak, but there’s far less Viggo Mortensen flexing and lots more smoke and death. The premise is simple: a tanker truck crashes inside one of Norway’s many MANY tunnels and sparks a fire, filling the tunnel with toxic smoke and making it difficult for the people inside to get out.
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One of the responders to this incident is Stein (Thorbjørn Harr) who discovers that his daughter Elise (Ylva Lyng Fuglerud) was on a coach inside the tunnel, and he becomes hellbent on getting her and as many other people as he can out alive before they succumb to the smoke and fumes.
The biggest problem with this film is a strange lack of urgency to a lot of events. Despite there clearly being a fire inside the tunnel and smoke everywhere, the rescue teams are told to wait and not go because…? I dunno. Maybe they were worried it was actually a sleeping dragon breathing out the smoke? It ends up not really mattering anyway as everyone ignores orders and goes into the tunnel. Eventually.
Both The Wave and The Quake had moments of real tension and energy, while The Tunnel almost feels like you might be watching some sort of procedural drama in places. Part of that, and this is pure speculation, may well be down to the budget. The previous two films were able to wreak havoc on a massive scale while The Tunnel feels like it didn’t have a great deal of money to plough into effects-heavy scenes.
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There’s a lot of build up and a lot of time spent introducing a whole menagerie of characters, most of whom have no direct involvement in the story other than to run hither and thither and occasionally shout at people, if that. There’s also the whole family drama aspect between Stein, Elise and Stein’s new girlfriend Ingrid, who Elise resents for replacing her deceased mother in Stein’s affections. The most effective part of the story, at least for me, was the plight of two little girls separated from their mother inside the tunnel who manage to get through to the traffic control centre, the operator there helpless to do anything but try to talk to them and direct them to something approaching safety.
The flat and somewhat sluggish story aside, the characterisation is solid. Stein, Ingrid, Elise and the rest feel like real people trying to deal with the situation like real people would. There’s none of this horribly contrived “supposedly intelligent people doing really stupid things to advance the plot” that plagues so many other films. (I’m looking at you, Prometheus. You know what you did.)
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Honestly that’s all I have to say about this little slice of Scandi-Disaster. It’s not a bad film, but it’s not a great one and there are better ones out there if you want to try dipping your toes into the icy fjords of Norewgian disaster films. Is it worth a buy? Nah. Is it worth watching on your streaming service of choice? Yes. Unless you can watch Sly Stallone in Daylight, in which case maybe just watch that instead.
The Tunnel is out now on Digital HD from Signature Entertainment.