Well here’s a cool little thing: a film which can be watched online, for free, legally. What’s more, it raised its budget – AUD$36,000 – through the 135k project by selling individual frames for AUD$1 (they never made it to the 135k which is why this film is particularly low budget – but frankly, good on ’em!) The concept is also nice: Australian water shortage, project to tap into water supply in tunnel network under Sydney, homeless people start going missing once the project begins, film crew go and investigate, weird shit happens.
So this plucky little film has me onside before I’ve even watched it. I’m impressed by the film-makers’ dedication and determination and hope this is a sign that they have produced something good. And have they?
Well, as an extremely low budget film it’s hardly surprising that they opted for the lost footage approach. The market seems totally saturated in this type of film at the moment but I don’t see that as a problem provided it utilises the genre well and introduces something new. And The Tunnel does both of these things. The acting is good, the story is engaging, the framing element of the film-crew interviews is done well and there’s stacks of suspense and heart-stopping horror. There are some set-pieces in this movie where the film-making is absolutely first rate: the sequence in the bell-room is deliciously unnerving.
Underpinning the story is a large dollop of mystery and – I strongly suspect – a message about sacrifice, selfishness and abdicating responsibility. And I do like my subtext. Oh yes.
**OK stop reading now if you don’t want spoilers**
But that’s not the reason you’re here, is it? The majority of people who stumble across this article will have already watched this film and will want to know one of two things: 1) Is the story true 2) WTF is that thing?!
2) Let me just fess up to something right now. I watched this film twice. In a row. Why? Because I was trying to figure out what that creature was as well. Having scooted around on the internet and had a look at a few other theories, I have some comments to make.
Number 1. There are people that would have you believe the creature in this film is some sort of mutant or war time experiment gone wrong. The justification for this? Well, they will swear blind that there is a ‘Dangerous Chemicals’ sign on the door to the World War II bunker – and that we’re all as thick as possum shit for not spotting it. Hmm, really? Because – being the anally retentive little research-squirrel that I am – I went back through the film and guess what? I took screen grabs.
So does that look like a bio-hazard warning to you? Can you see the word ‘chemical’ anywhere on there? Yes, someone has scrawled ‘butane gas’ across the top in felt-tip pen but I wasn’t aware of anyone being mutated by dangerous exposure to a camping stove. So I’m willing to discount the ‘mutated person’ theory on the basis of zero evidence.
Number 2. It’s a vampire. Reasons for this? Well, our friendly little creature doesn’t seem to like the light and he also appears to go for the throat when he attacks his victims. He is also keen on throwing blood around, as we see once we get inside the room with Tangels’ torch.
But I’m not keen on the vampire explanation either, mainly because the film makers seem so keen to stress that this creature has a connection with water. It drags its victims into the underground lake.
Number 3 It’s a Bunyip. “A what?” I hear all my fellow non-antipodeans cry. I can’t act smart – I didn’t come up with this theory and I didn’t know what a Bunyip was either until I googled it. Well, this is an artists impression of a Bunyip:
A Bunyip is a sort of dangerous water-spirit from Aboriginal folk-lore but has come to represent much more:
the bunyip is a fascinating emblem of cross-cultural contact in colonial Australia: an indigenous bogeyman that came to terrify European settlers
The above quote was taken from the fantastic blog Phantoms and Monsters which I highly recommend visiting for a very informative and entertaining article on the history of the Bunyip. Go! Educate yourselves!
I am going to nail my colours to the mast and state that I think the creature in The Tunnel is indeed a Bunyip and that there is an engaging subtext playing out in the movie (which will continue into the sequel) about the fabric of the land and the way in which it can be used and reused – yet which cannot escape from its origins. The Tunnel has been used and reused over the years, which also mirrors the nature of water which is in a constant state of flux. But there is also a darker meaning concerning colonialism and colonial guilt – the Bunyip represents pre-white conquest Australia. As the Aborigines were pushed out and ignored, their traditions and wisdom eroded, so now the new power ignores the plight of the homeless who live in the tunnels – first because they are more interested in the resources available but later because they wish to deny all knowledge of the creature.
We don’t really get a good look at the creature in the film, I painstakingly used freeze frame to pull together the clearest shots (see how much I love you?):
So here we can see two eyes, a nose and a mouth – so it’s looking pretty humanoid so far, if rather terrifying. Incidentally, this is the first shot of the creature we get in the film and the slow build up is another fantastic set piece. Love it.
This shot took me bloody ages. I had to time the freeze frame just right – so enjoy! Clearly humanoid, we can see an ear, what appears to be straggly hair, two eyes, nose and mouth. This scene – where the creature has dragged Natasha into the underground lake – is perhaps the most terrifying and heart-stopping in the film. I have listened to the creatures ‘voice’ repeatedly and I really can’t make out the words – to me it sounds more like a lot of bull-frogs croaking and that just makes me think it is a Bunyip all the more.
It’s got hands. Not flippers, or fins, or paws – as the various descriptions of the Bunyip suggest. I think the single biggest factor that suggests The Tunnel’s creature is NOT a Bunyip is that despite the Bunyip coming in just about every shape and size under the sun (some times all at once) it is – to my knowledge – never represented as humanoid.
Ah yes – the eyeballs – now these seem to be significant and nowhere in Bunyip folklore have I found anything about them collecting eyeballs, or having shrines. I suppose you could argue that they are symbolic but that’s a whole other woolly area I don’t want to wander in to. I would say that a Bunyip is the safest bet for identifying this creature. Perhaps the reason it doesn’t ‘look’ like a Bunyip (let’s not go there) is that the film-makers had to seriously cut back on the budget when they didn’t reach the full 135k.
If for no other reason I would suggest you watch this film simply for the pleasure of following the clues and trying to figure out what the creature is. For those of you (like me) who get all tingly at the thought of research then go google Bunyip to your heart’s content. You won’t regret watching this film if you like your horrors mysterious, well-acted, genuinely scary and with a big heart.