Studio: Gravitas Ventures
Director: Jeff Chamberlain
Writer: Jeff Chamberlain, Scott Woldman
Producer: Jeff Chamberlain
Stars: Saige Thompson, Reiley McClendon, Adam Hendershott, Charan Prabhakar, Alexa Vega
Five friends become trapped inside a haunted mine on Halloween night.
“The Descent” can sleep easy knowing that its title is safe as the reigning champion of spelunking horror. Although the literally titled “Abandoned Mine” makes a suitable PG-13 alternative for slightly more family friendly fare in the claustrophobic category.
And while on the topic of the film’s literal title, why not name the movie “Haunted Mine,” “Death Mine,” “Ghost Mine,” or something that sounds a little less like a Discovery Channel special? Did the distributors just want a top slot when the movie was alphabetized on VOD and New Release lists?
“Abandoned Mine” sleepwalks into a setup that is old hat for horror film aficionados. Brad, a small town jock who will never return to the peak of his high school glory days, preps a Halloween adventure for his friends that involves helmet cameras and a reportedly haunted mine. Along for the underground excursion are Sharon and Laurie, the type of teen cuties that giddily ready themselves for the evening via a dressup montage set to an imitation trendy pop song. Jimmy is the chunky smart mouth and Ethan rounds out the group as the resident braniac.
The young ensemble plays well off each other. For the most part, the performances are up to snuff, except for when the film’s latter moments require the waterworks to be turned on. The emotional breakdowns play as forced, but the cast is otherwise attractive, believable, and defined with personality. The Indian character referred to as Ethan because his real name is too hard to pronounce is particularly affable as the comic relief and at-the-ready exposition provider. Although his humor often comes at the expense of borderline insensitive stereotypes regarding sacred cows and Customer Service call centers.
Of course, groups of teenagers in these situations are prone to poor decisions, and choosing to spend the haunted holiday in a crumbling mineshaft certainly qualifies. It does not take Tarot cards or a crystal ball to accurately predict that the five friends eventually find themselves trapped underground in relatively short order. Finding a way out is only problem number one. Dealing with Jimmy’s claustrophobia, dangerous cave-ins, and vengeful poltergeists prove to be among the even more immediate concerns.
The premise and the screenplay will not be taking home any awards for originality. Where “Abandoned Mine” makes up for it is in the subterranean atmosphere. The movie has an effective claustrophobic vibe. The setting looks like an actual cave and not a fabricated “Land of the Lost” set, as the filmmakers smartly shot on location in authentic abandoned mines. That detail alone keeps the production design from falling into hokey territory.
Like the amateur explorers, the movie takes a while to find its footing on a shaky foundation. Early scenes in dimly lit mineshafts test the viewer’s patience with a lot of squeezing into tight spaces, teenage melodrama, and shots so dark that they may as well be mud. Once the danger starts mounting at the midway point, “Abandoned Mine” veers into territory that reveals the movie as something darker than a feature length episode of “Goosebumps.” A twist comes in the third act that makes the story far more tragic while lighting the way for a surprisingly grim resolution. Whether or not the climax is satisfying or believable is up for debate, but it would be a mistake to label it as tame.
Seasoned suspense vets who demand a high level of sophistication in their cinema will immediately thumb their noses at the teenaged flavor of “Abandoned Mine.” Taken for what it is, however, “Abandoned Mine” works as a PG-13 chiller free from nudity, gore, and F-bombs. It may not be completely memorable, but it makes for a decent enough distraction at your niece’s next slumber party.
NOTE: There is a mid-credits scene.
Review Score: 60