There’s just over a week left until Halloween, so it’s time for the annual Week of Horror! From here until the 31st (apart from the 25th), there will be a post everyday on a different horror film!
There’s a strange fascination the horror industry has with our enemies from World War 2, particularly when it comes to the human experiments that were performed by our enemies at that time. These are usually attributed to just the Nazis, usually just to make us hate the genocidal maniacs just a little more, though the occasional film does remember that there were atrocities committed by other nations during the war, including the Japanese.
‘Dead Mines’ (Steven Sheli, 2012) is one of those few, though, in reality, it does very little with its slight twist on the premise.
‘Dead Mines’ follows a small group of treasure hunters and mercenaries as they search Indonesia for Yamashita’s Treasure, fabled to be a collection of riches that the Japanese General hid during the Second World War (it’s actually assumed to be in The Philippines, but I guess Indonesia is close enough). Under the guidance of Japanese Scientist Rie (Miki Mizuno), the team enter into an abandoned mine that was refitted by the Japanese Army as an experimental facility. As they enter, they are attacked by unknown assailants and trapped in the mine as the entrance collapses. However, there is something far more sinister lurking in the mines…
As you may have worked out, there isn’t exactly much here that can be considered original in any way, as it is simply a slight retooling of a popular subgenre with a Japanese wash. As said, the film doesn’t even do much with its changes from Nazis to the Japanese, which is something quite disappointing in the overall scheme of things. It also leads to a lack of anything all that interesting in terms of design work or scripting, lending the film an overall feeling of dullness.
I will give credit where credit is due, the director has done a good job in adding plenty of diversity to the group. We have annoying white rich American guy Warren Prince (Les Loveday), his Chinese girlfriend Su-Ling (Carmen Soo), as fore mentioned Japanese Scientist Rie, British Engineer and ex-soldier Stanley (Sam Hazeldine), and a series of Indonesian/ Multi-ethnicity soldiers led by Captain Tino Prawa (Ario Bayu). That’s a pretty decent spectrum for any film, and none of the characters are treated derogatorily for their race or stereotyped, which is a nice change of pace.
Unfortunately, as a result of having a large-ish cast and not enough screen-time, several of these characters are whittled down to just a few personality traits. Worst offence here is Su-Ling, who is defined only as Warren’s girlfriend and doesn’t do much during the film’s runtime until near the end, where her actions are entirely based around her boyfriend. Two of the soldiers, Djoko and Ario (Joe Taslim and Mike Lewis) aren’t given a whole lot to do either, though they at least interact with several members of the group and get the seeds of personalities.
The overall plotting of the movie is actually pretty solid, with the film hitting the right milestones at the right times, providing decent pacing and a good sense of progression. Unfortunately, this is hampered by the actual direction of the film and lack of any clear understanding as to how Horror works.
Like most examples in this sub-genre, the film falls flat as it relies more on being visually disturbing than actually horrifying. The situation is never made relatable, the characters never really close enough to having actual personalities or a point of relation. The matter isn’t helped by the location being too unreal, and little effort has been made to make it more believable (perfectly demonstrated by the cave systems which are clearly very fake).
It also isn’t helped by the film’s lack of composition and lighting. Everything in this film is far too bright and visible, so we can see the monsters clearly, taking away from any attempt at horror. There are a few, rare moments, where the direction of the film is actually good, but mostly it just sort of lingers in the mediocre or bad areas, providing a visually dull film that never knows how to handle lighting.
The soundtrack doesn’t do the film any favours either, as it sounds as though it’s stuck in a different decade than the rest of the film, often coming off as a seventies or eighties soundtrack, and never quite fitting the tone of the scene or the film as a whole. It also seems to have been written without knowledge of the film, and plays up the sci-fi sections too much, which then contrasts with the more traditional Asian sections of the score.
The rest of the sound design really isn’t worth noting, as it falls downhill quite quickly after the cave-in. Nothing is ever really done to invoke a sense of horror, which could have been easily rectified, especially as the monsters pass through tunnels under the characters – scurrying sounds could have been played throughout, growing in frequency and urgency. This could have been easily played off early as simply rats, but lends a greater urgency when you know that there are monsters in the tunnels.
This is one of the more frustrating films to talk about, as it had such potential and is handled competently, but falls below the average because of a few things. The film really needed a greater focus on lighting and design (both visual and sound). With a few minor tweaks this could become a better film, and possibly even a good one had there been a greater attempt to inject more imagination into the plot than ‘Japanese – Samurai’.
‘Dead Mine’ isn’t a terrible film, but nor is it a good one. It falls into a great many of the usual horror film problems whilst managing to avoid a few others. It could have been a great film, but instead is left in the pile of mediocrity.