14 Aug 2021
Joakim Robillard, Théodore Pellerin, James Hyndman
It’s the plotting that shines most in this social drama about a Quebec mining community. Written and directed by Sophie Dupuis, Underground (French: Souterrain) unravels a complex web of inter-connected relationships among the miners, a web we know will lead to a cataclysmic end.
Dupuis leads the film off with a flash-forward to a pit disaster, pulling us out before we see how it resolves. Cutting back to two months prior, we’re introduced to an ensemble of characters with more to their stories than meets the eye, and steadily, we learn about their lives, about their pasts, and about their shared traumas.
There’s Maxine, who is preparing for the birth of his first child. However, his wife suffers a miscarriage, something that transpires has happened multiple times before. He angrily reacts against his wife’s wish to adopt a child, and derides a colleague who has done so for what he perceives to have been wilful emasculation. Julian, a former worker at the mine, has suffered a serious brain injury in a car-crash that was caused by Maxine’s drunk driving. He struggles to find an outlet to function with his new, circumscribed reality. And finally, Julian’s father Mario, who is deeply depressed at the state his son has been reduced to, and deeply resentful toward Maxine for causing it.
With so much upheaval eating away at the men, and with the knowledge of the coming disaster in the viewer’s mind, a question looms over proceedings. Which pressure point will trigger the fatal human error that causes it? Underground is above all about the different ways people react to life’s caprice. Maxine eventually accepts that his parenthood desires are beyond his control and reconciles with his wife. But it’s Mario who proves to be the narrative’s stick of dynamite.
The heavy plot load is maintained by consistent, naturalistic dialogue, and by performances that capture the camaraderie of a tight-knit community. Every actor holds up their end, and Dupuis, having shown her capability for handling the quiet stuff, is proficient when it comes to the set-piece finale too. She makes use of close-ups and balances drawn-out, tension building shots with high-tempo cuts to capture the intensity of a subterranean crisis. On a low-budget there are no theatrics, but theatrics aren’t what Underground needs to tell a sad, self-contained story. A parting image of the surviving miners wandering off into the dark once more, their lights gradually fading from view, is an apt crystallisation of the burdens it reminds us we’re all carrying forward.
Underground will be released in Cinemas, Virtual Cinemas and VOD on 20th August.