The Tunnel is a Norwegian disaster film loosely based on true events. It’s a snowy Christmas Eve, and people are traveling, just trying to get to their destinations for Christmas. Norway’s tunnel system is described as having a sort of “every man for himself” attitude towards safety in the event of an emergency; there are no emergency exits in most of these tunnels. When a truck crashes in the Storfjell tunnel, an emergency worker named Stein (Thorbjørn Harr, of Vikings) must do his best to save the people stuck inside.
The Tunnel presents us with a number of mini-dramas inside the main story of surviving the disaster in the tunnel. Stein, our protagonist, is dealing with his grieving teenage daughter Elise. Stein’s wife, Elise’s mother, passed away 3 years ago, and she’s upset at his attempt to move on; she’s further upset when he invites her to spend Christmas with him and his new girlfriend, Ingrid. Elise ends up boarding a bus to Oslo, a 7 hour journey that will, of course, lead her through the Storfjell tunnel.
Early on in the film, we are quickly introduced to a large cast of characters. A hitchhiker looking for a ride on a truck, a bourgeois real estate agent who crashes his Tesla, truckers Tom and Anatol, the busload of people en route to Oslo, and a family — along with all of the emergency workers and road workers who will be assisting with the impending disaster. The meeting of each of these characters, or groups, is orchestrated perfectly as such that each convergence becomes a satisfying moment, until there’s a few too many of these moments. The problem with The Tunnel is that it tries to accomplish a bit too much — too many characters, too many stories, too many lessons.
Trying to keep track of who is on the east side of the tunnel vs. the west side, and which emergency workers are on what side, and who is trapped on each side, can also become confusing, although The Tunnel does try its best to make this perfectly clear. It is interesting to watch the emergency workers, both on-site and remotely, try to orchestrate a rescue, but unfortunately it becomes a bit convoluted.
Like any good disaster movie, there are moments that you completely expect to happen but that still can be quite grating and suspenseful, like when Tom looks under his tanker truck to see if any gasoline has spilled. There are also moments that will completely take you by surprise, as the disasters and tragedies compound. The beginning of The Tunnel is excellently suspenseful and exciting as the action ramps up.
Around the halfway point of the film, once the characters are established and the disaster fully underway, the story slows down a bit. While the emergency crews work outside to try to figure out how to get in to the tunnel, we see the chaos that happened inside the tunnel as the fire began start to slow down. It is hard to see in the smoky tunnel, and unfortunately it really doesn’t make for an interesting watch at this point. There’s a few exceptions to this – one of the truck drivers, Anatol, makes his way into the bus and it’s a real “oh s--t!” moment. There are a handful of these moments, and never too many, but somehow not quite enough.
The story is also slowed down quite a bit by some of the side plots. The family that we saw entering the tunnel early on in the film become something of a plot device, made to add a layer of suspense and tragedy to what is already a horrible situation, and it begins to feel extravagant; an unnecessary attempt at emotional pull. While surely anyone who watches the film will want this family to be reunited safely, we do not have any real attachment to these characters. This storyline ends up taking away much more than it adds to the film.
Of course, being a disaster movie, and a Christmas disaster movie at that, The Tunnel does provide us with heart-warming life-lessons amidst the tragedy. If you’re a fan of disaster films, you’ll enjoy The Tunnel, but unfortunately it does not bring anything new to the genre.
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