‘Dead Mine’ is the debut production from HBO Asia Originals. This first effort is from British filmmaker Steven Sheil the writer and director of the critically acclaimed 2008 low-budget UK horror ‘Mum & Dad’ an horrifically effective take on the demented cannibal family premise harking back to Tobe Hooper’s ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974) and Wes Craven’s ‘The People Under the Stairs’ (1991). Here Sheil does not take writing duties and I think it is fair to say it is a director for hire job.
In Indonesia, an expedition led and funded by the son of a CEO Price (Les Loveday) accompanied by his girlfriend Su-Ling (Carmen Soo) and made up of a British engineer Stanley (Sam Hazeldine), Japanese researcher Rie (Miki Mizuno) and a squad of four Indonesian soldiers headed by Captain Tino Prawa (Ario Bayu) find what they are searching for. It is a deserted mine that was formerly a World War II Japanese military bunker. After setting up camp outside, they come under fire from pirates. Heading into the bunker to take cover, a grenade is thrown detonating outside the entrance caving in the bunker and trapping everyone inside.
Price is forced to come clean as to what it is they are actually looking for. It turns out that he is after the legend of Yamashita’s treasure, which would be the largest treasure haul in over a century. Heading deeper into the mine and finding all kinds of medical equipment, Rie reveals her real reason for wanting to be there. The mine was not only used as a bunker but was an operating centre for the infamous Unit 731, which was the Imperial Japanese Army’s biological and chemical warfare research and development unit that carried out the atrocities of lethal human experimentation on POWs. A more historically accurate realistic and graphic depiction of this can be seen in T.F. Mous’ deeply disturbing ‘Men Behind the Sun’ (1988). Back to this film and it becomes apparent to the group that they are not alone.
This is a well-shot movie, has stunningly constructed sets, the special make-up effects are top notch and Soo and Mizuno make for nice Asian eye candy. These four positives though cannot make this even a passable piece of entertainment for a one-time watch on a dull Sunday afternoon, as they cannot distract the viewer from what a piece of dreck this is. Essentially, a rip-off of the nifty little British independent horror ‘Outpost’ (2007) this is truly uninspired filmmaking. Wafer-thin two-dimensional characterization, clumsy dialogue, horrendously forced exposition as each character speaks to each other for the first time rendering the story predictable becoming a matter of just who is going to be next to die, a cast lacking conviction with phoned in performances and shoddily executed action horror set-pieces. The director is on autopilot pulling out all the old genre jump scares clichés and he cannot even get that right, as not anything made me jump once. It is a shame really that a premise with so much potential for entertainment is given such lacklustre execution as I would not mind the obvious ‘Outpost’ comparison if it was just made well enough so I could take it at face value for a good time beer n’ pizza flick.
The set-up is good enough for what the filmmakers were aiming for in striving for entertainment but ultimately failed to deliver the goods. We have a mismatched group of personalities including an arrogant rich boy American (Price), a down to earth working class Brit (Stanley) and a tough battle hardened Indonesian military captain (Tino Prawa) that just screams out heated confrontations. Alas, this potential is squandered due to a very poor screenplay with such flat characterization that it kills the actors’ performances. They have entered the darkness of a sinister abandoned mine that once housed the evil human experiments of the Japanese Imperial Army in their goals to create the ultimate biological and chemical weapons that has here been given a fictional take for the sake of entertainment with the inclusion of super soldiers. Much like ‘Outpost’ then except of course here instead of reanimated Nazis we have zombified Japanese Imperial Guards accompanied by the mutated creatures from the failed experiments on the POWs. However, handled clumsily the super samurais are just laughable and the mutants look like a poor man’s version of the monsters from Neil Marshall’s fantastic 2008 cave nightmare ‘The Descent’. This should have been a blast but instead it is all just cringe making.
Considering the amount of great scripted television HBO have produced over the years with some of my all-time favourite shows like ‘Oz’, ‘The Sopranos’, ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’, ‘Six Feet Under’, ‘True Blood’, ‘Game of Thrones’ etc. It boggles the mind that a premium cable and satellite television network with such quality TV output would invest so much in such an awful script for a motion picture. Steven Sheil must have been in this for the payday as his previous directorial feature debut ‘Mum & Dad’ written by himself was a damn fine piece of ultra-low budget filmmaking that his heart was into with his own material that he believed in with a grim nasty assault on the senses. If you have not seen it yet, then I really recommend that you check it out. More work like this please, Steven.
If more attention had been paid to writing a screenplay that was at least decent ‘Dead Mine’ could have been so much better. It may have attracted another director that would have done a good job or would have even made Sheil sitting in the director’s chair pull a rabbit out of the hat as evidenced from his previous work it is obvious that he has immense talent. Despite nice cinematography, excellent set designs, solid special effects make-up and some hot Oriental totty there is nothing else for me here to recommend. Avoid and go seek out the director’s far superior ‘Mum & Dad’ instead.
* out of ****
Dave J. Wilson
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