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Death Tunnel (February 22/06)

It goes without saying that Death Tunnel is not even remotely as effective as its thematic cousin, Brad Anderson's Session 9. Though both films transpire at creepy abandoned hospitals - Kentucky's Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Death Tunnel and Massachusetts' Danvers State Hospital in Session 9 - the similarities end there. Death Tunnel director Philip Adrian Booth quickly proves himself to be a student of the less-is-certainly-not-more school of filmmaking, and as such, peppers the movie with a wild assortment of in-your-face camera tricks and intrusive editing techniques (contrast this with Anderson's subtle work in Session 9).

Though the majority of Death Tunnel has been filmed inside the actual Waverly Hills Sanatorium (where, legend has it, over 60,000 people died in the early 1900s), Booth - along with co-writers Christopher Saint Booth and Shane Dax Taylor - essentially treats the building as just another scary-movie locale, eschewing ambiance in favor of cheap shocks and an exceedingly tired storyline. Consequently, the revelation that the movie was shot on location turns out to be meaningless; Death Tunnel could've been filmed in an abandoned warehouse and achieved exactly the same effect.

The plot - revolving around five moronic college kids who agree to spend the night at Waverly Hills - is as mechanical and by-the-numbers as one might assume, a problem that's exacerbated by Booth's decision to employ a frustratingly non-linear structure. Right off the bat, Booth infuses the film with an off-kilter vibe that's presumably meant to come off as scary but instead just feels disorienting. That the opening hour consists solely of sequences in which characters wander around the facility certainly doesn't help matters, nor do the terrible, amateurish performances.

But the bottom line is that Death Tunnel, from minute one, is completely devoid of anything even resembling ambiance or tension; Booth's over-the-top approach lends the film an aura of total artificiality. It's too bad, really, because it's clear that - were Booth to reign in his sensational tendencies - the film could've carved out a niche for itself as an effective companion piece to Session 9.

out of

About the DVD: Death Tunnel arrives on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, armed with a behind-the-scenes featurette and a "Death is in Fashion" featurette (a photo gallery is also included).