Monday, April 05, 2021

The Tunnel: The New Norwegian Disaster Movie

Readers of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will always associate Norway with its fjords, but anyone who drives there is more likely to think of its tunnels. There are over 1,100 bored through the country’s mountains and since 2011, there have been significant fires in eight of them. That is according to the opening of titles of this film. Those tunnel incidents directly inspired Pål Øie’s The Tunnel, which releases this Friday in theaters and on VOD.

It is Christmas time, so a lot of the transportation safety workers are on holiday leave. (This being Norway, snow will also limit mobility.) Widowed Stein Berge thought he would be spending Christmas with his still grieving daughter Elise and possibly his eternally patient girlfriend Ingrid, but his boss calls him back when an accident closes down a long mountain tunnel. It is just as well, because it turns out Elise was aboard the Oslo express bus trapped about a mile inside.

Initially, the tunnel is just jammed, like the Suez Canal, but eventually the truck hauling highly combustible cargo starts leaking—and then it starts smoking. Soon, it is impossible to breath in the tunnel itself. Passengers must stay inside, recycling their air as they wait for help. Unfortunately, the side with the better rescue resources is still buried under snow, so Berge will go in from the other side, by himself, cowboy-style.

We’re no experts in environmental science, but Kjersti Helen Rasmussen’s screenplay feels pretty credible as it unfolds and the scarcity of breathable oxygen definitely escalates the tension. Admittedly, it gets pretty manipulative in the third act, but that is what disaster movies do.

Thorbjørn Harr (from
Kieler Street) broods hard and looks like weathered concrete, but he always inspires confidence and viewers’ rooting interest as the taciturn Berge. In contrast, Ylva Fuglerud’s Elise really tries our patience. Okay, so her father is not good at expressing his emotions. What does she expect? He’s Norwegian.

Regardless, the supporting cast is solid, particularly Mikkel Bratt Silset, portraying Berge’s equally impatient colleague, Ivar. The effects are also impressively realistic. Frankly, nothing in the film looks outlandishly far-fetched, which is maybe worth remembering the next time you visit Norway. Recommended for disaster movie fans,
The Tunnel (the Norwegian one, rather than the Korean one, which is even better) opens this Friday (4/9), in theaters and on DVD.