THE TUNNEL (a.k.a. Tunnelen) *** Norway 2019 Dir: Pål Øie. 105 mins
Tagline: “Two roads in – no way out”.
I reckon that Norwegian cinema is a decade or two behind American cinema, because we have already endured a series of disaster films previously in the 1970’s. Various reviews have made mention of “Villmark” films such as “The Wave” and “The Quake” which have come prior to this film. As such films go, things seems to begin innocuously enough, introducing a large cast each with their own backstory, and then quickly they go to hell as disasters pile up, one atop another. Coming from Pennsylvania and after spending several years in New England, I found the subject matter to be ridiculous. You would think that of all places, Norway, would certainly have plenty of resources in place to circumvent disaster from oncoming storms and icy conditions, but that is where this film takes place. Adding to the feeling of impending doom is the fact that it is Christmas Eve and woe to those who are cursed to work emergency shifts when said disaster strikes. In The Tunnel, it is not so much the special effects that increase the feelings of entrapment and danger, but the many characters and their relationships with others that help keep the viewer engaged.
The film starts with an onslaught of characters that are quickly introduced and eventually we learn that the main star here is a man named Thorbjørn Harr who portrays the firefighter Stein. All he wants to do is spend a nice quiet holiday with his daughter Elise (Ylva Fugleud) who is still mourning the death of her mother from three years prior. Now looking forward to the holiday with his new squeeze, Ingrid (Lisa Carlehed), family tensions are mounting as Elise is slightly jealous and angered at Stein. Elise boards a bus to spend the time away with relatives in Oslo, but little does she know what is in store for her and the other passengers. The director makes sure that we know these character’s backstory prior to the oncoming disaster ensuring that we will feel empathic towards them when all hell breaks loose. We also are shown two truck drivers that will play a fateful role in the events to come. One is a seasoned veteran, but the other man is a newcomer, and this will yield explosive results as the tragedy plays out. One truck is, of course, hauling gasoline and when that vehicle gets stuck inside the tunnel, leaking gas, the tunnel is overrunning with black smoke. People go into a panic and try to flee the scene. Chaos ensues. The director is particularly good at capturing the desperation that strikes as people scramble to escape.
The film is meant to be viewed as a tribute to the various emergency workers that regularly seek out danger. It is here at the Road Traffic Control Centre that we are introduced to Andrea (Ingvild Holthe Bygdnes) who receives the distress calls from the emergency workers. Andrea must remain calm and in control as she relegates information to the other crews and to her boss, Egil, played by Kyrre Haugen Sydness. The difficulty of the job is readily conveyed as Andrea needs to stay cool under pressure while being situated miles from the scene. Complications increase significantly when the workers from the adjoining village on the other side of the tunnel cannot assist because of the increasingly deadly winter conditions. Hence the fire chief in Stein’s village must step in and try to assist the crews already dispatched. Elise, like a firefighter’s daughter would, bravely comes to the service of other stranded passengers and she tries to lead them to safety.
The dangers are multi-fold with Stein and the others charging in, regardless of the risks, looking to save as many lives as possible. Of course, there are some weak plot points in the film because this is a big screen scenario and not everything works precisely. The role of Gunnar (Jan Gunnar Røise) as an arrogant rich bastard that rushes out of the convoy, is meant to induce some laughter into a tense scene, but his character is not as carefully developed and woven into the script.
So, does help arrive in time to make the daring rescue? I cannot reveal the ending of the film because that would spoil all the fun of watching this edge of the seat suspense thrill ride. You will ultimately have to rent this one to find out.
Review by Robert Segedy