The new (at least in the States) Norwegian disaster movie “The Tunnel” opens by dropping a few interesting facts that adds some perspective to what we are about to see. We learn that there are 1100 tunnels throughout Norway, most without emergency exits or safety rooms. The title cards go on to say that since 2011 there have been eight major tunnel fires and it was the heroic acts of survivors and first responders that ultimately saved countless lives. Those events and those acts are the inspiration for director Pål Øie’s film.
I call the film “new”, but it actually opened in Norway back in 2019. Now it has made its way further west and American audiences can take in a movie that has many of the usual disaster movie ingredients. We get the large cast full of characters with different roles to play. Some are victims fighting to survive; others are rescue workers trying to save them. You get the devastating event, the dramatic close calls, children in peril, a heroic sacrifice, etc. You get the one jerk everyone wants to punch in the mouth, the troubled family that needs a good disaster to bring them back together, and even the ominous tried-and-true warning “There’s a storm coming.”
Yet “The Tunnel” still works in large part because of its tight focus and kinetic pacing. It also helps to have solid performances from a cast who never overplays it (with one small exception). First time feature screenwriter Kjersti Helen Rasmussen doesn’t fully avoid the genre trappings which leads to a predictability the movie never can quite shake. But she does infuse her story with humanity (which should be at the core of every film like this) while also delivering enough thrills to keep things exciting.
It’s the Christmas season and Elise (Ylva Fuglerud) is having a rough time. It has been three years since her mother died, and as anyone who has lost someone close will tell you, the holidays are tough when you’re still mourning. Elise’s father Stein (a stoic Thorbjørn Harr) plows icy roads and leads convoys for Emergency Services. He also has a new girlfriend Ingrid (Lisa Carlehed) and he would like her to spend Christmas with them. As you might expect, this goes over like a lead balloon. Elise storms off and in a moment of frustration hops on a bus bound for Oslo.
Further up in the snow-covered mountains (some 3117 feet above sea level), as travelers hurry home for the holidays, a tanker truck crashes deep within the 5.6 mile-long Storfjell tunnel. At first it looks to be nothing more than an annoying and inconvenient traffic jam, but we know better. A fuel leak and a spark from an electrical box causes a fiery explosion which fills the tunnel with blinding black smoke and toxic fumes. As those trapped struggle amid the chaos, emergency teams mobilize outside including Stein who is called in to help coordinate the rescue effort. But little does he know the bus carrying his daughter is among the many vehicles packed inside. Didn’t see that coming, did you?
A few other pieces are placed on the board including a family of four returning from a Christmas party, a hot-headed young fireman named Ivar (Mikkel Bratt Silset), and the best – a Road Traffic Control operator named Andrea (Ingvild Holthe Bygdnes). All have parts to play as Øie deftly maneuvers around an assortment of clichés and easy-to-read outcomes. But by highlighting the heroism and keeping things focused on the people rather than the spectacle, “The Tunnel” gives its audience something authentic to latch onto and root for. “The Tunnel” is now streaming on VOD.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS