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Directed and produced by Joe Goodall and Elliot Burns

Starring Elliot Burns, Sheldon Sinnamon, Charlotte Culley

Review by K. McPherson

So you’ve averted a catastrophe, but what next?

“Tunnel”, a short film directed and produced by Joe Goodall and Elliot Burns is a well shot but uncertain look at three lives interrupted by chance encounters.

Driving along one day, a moment of inattention almost causes a businessman (Joe Goodall) to hit Alice (Charlotte Culley) as she crosses the road with her bicycle.

And so, the sliding doors moment – the collision that happens even as it does not.

The cinematography of this opening scene is some of the strongest in the film. It possesses much of what the rest of the feature lacks: a precise sense of what is at stake for the characters and a control over the mechanisms of plot.

It turns out that Alice spends most of her time under a tunnel with Angus (Sheldon Sinnamon), a snooty nomad who lives among paperbacks that he reads to Alice, stories that provide a reprieve from her troubled home.

Besieged by problems of his own, the businessman is attracted by the simplicity of life under the tunnel and the offer of an easy companionship with Angus and Alice.

Elliot Burns is competent in conveying the businessman’s underlying dissatisfaction, although often opts for anger when a more nuanced approach would be more enlightening for the viewer.

This is part of a broader tendency towards forcefulness throughout the film. It works hard to show its emotional backbone, but this is an impossible task without more detail.

In many cases it could use either some restraint or originality – to have neither amounts to a bland mix, energetically stirred.

The script is melodramatic in a way that overpowers the reserve of the camera work, and the actors sometime seem uncomfortable delivering such weighty lines.

The music is similarly loud and didactic, amplifying the film’s surface elements without expanding on them.

Occasionally, “Tunnel” does deliver on its title, hinting at the existence of subterranean depths in our everyday lives or in the consequences of a moment’s decision.

As the businessman confesses to his prior unhappiness one night, the film does not pander to the idea of his spiritual renewal.

The quiet music, cold palette and framing of the scene offer a frank assessment of the tunnel’s squalor, as though questioning the extent to which his life has really changed.

Hovering somewhere behind the dialogue here is the potential for a pleasing harmony between scene and subtext (which probably goes something like “renounce ye materialism and be free”).

To stretch this out across the film at large may require a sturdier framework than an unhappy businessman and a squatter guarding a young girl like she’s a campfire in a cold climate.

The film’s epigram mentions stories—that people don’t shape them, but are shaped by them—an unattributed Terry Pratchett quote that it would do well to follow more closely.

Between the triangle of its main characters, their complicated pasts and the books strewn around the tunnel campsite, the film is already thinking about the effect of multiple stories on multitudinous people.

Yet it seems to eschew this in favour of a focus on “story” in the abstract, a choose-your-own-adventure cobbled together by the viewer from the big, lumpy archetypes that abound.

The stories in “Tunnel” do not offer a tapestry so much as a pile of stitching – a promising start, but far from the finished object.


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