Deep in the Indonesian jungle, eight people are getting ready for a mysterious mission. The benefactor, Warren Price (Les Loveday), and his girlfriend Su-Ling (Carmen Soo) are keeping mum about their plans, but he's hired a crack team of well-trained soldiers to go with him. When they're ambushed by local thugs and trapped inside a cave by an explosion, Warren finally fesses up: he and his historical expert Rie (Miki Mizuno) have discovered documents suggesting that Yamashita's gold is buried in the same underground tunnels they're now trapped in. While the soldiers concern themselves with finding a way out, Warren tries to lead them toward what he believes might be the largest buried treasure in history. Unfortunately for all of them, they are not alone in the mine, and their company is unlike anything they could have anticipated.
Dead Mine is an action / horror hybrid that accomplishes a fair amount with limited means, and offers some fresh twists on old ideas, but the movie never gels into a satisfying experience. Director and co-writer Steven Sheil takes an intriguing scenario and wastes it by placing a bunch of dull, cliched characters inside, unveiling tired backstory and motivation that immediately begins wearing on the nerves. It's a uniquely frustrating experience: although there are plenty of movies that fumble a great premise, Sheil's good and bad ideas run concurrently, creating a one-of-a-kind test of the viewer's patience.
First, there's Captain Prawa (Ario Bayu), a no-nonsense leader of men whose only goal after the entrance collapses is to find a way out. Although Price is suspicious of everyone, Prawa says he has no interest in the treasure and means it. Beneath Prawa is Stanley (Sam Hazeldine), a former military man who got out after realizing he liked the violence a little too much. Ular (Bang Tigor) is the strong, silent type, exhibiting nobility in his desire to complete the mission and follow his captain. Two random grunts (Joe Taslim and Mike Lewis) bring up the rear. Unsurprisingly, Price himself is a bit of a dick, unwilling to let anything come between him and his dream, and his girlfriend is no different. Few should be surprised to learn that Rie seems to have Some Sort of Secret about the mine, which Stanley is keen on easing out of her. All of these characters are played to varying degrees of success, but none of them are particularly engaging -- even the best actor can't liven up tired material.
There is one character who works, and in fact works so well, he almost single-handedly prevents Dead Mine from being forgettable. Ryuichi (James Taenaka) is also a soldier, discovered in the mine midway through the movie. Without revealing the specifics of Ryuichi's situation, what Sheil and Ziad Semaan have devised is refreshingly sympathetic, and gives Taenaka the chance to find some new facets in a very old idea. It may not be completely original -- I can think of a few movies with some similar moments, and in one way or another, everything's been done before -- but it's done infrequently enough and executed with enough skill to be impressive. It's a shame that the film doesn't spend more time with Ryuichi before moving onto other things; the other encounters in the mine are far less interesting, both in concept and execution.
Although his direction isn't particularly inspired, Sheil does deserve credit for using his resources properly. It seems like such a basic, simple accomplishment that it shouldn't be worth mentioning, but there are just too many cheap films that look like cheap films to ignore how well Sheil lights and shoots his limited cave sets. He also wisely avoids accentuating anything with cheap CG, scaling scenes in a way that makes them feasible with what he has to work with. It's too bad there isn't more to write home about -- Dead Mine is roughly a third of a hidden gem.
Dead Mine places Joe Taslim front and center, even adorning the cardboard slip with a sticker boasting his participation (in relation to The Raid and Furious 6. Considering the size of his role and the fact that he does martial arts in both of those movies, it's a totally cheap ploy, but the art still looks essentially decent. The art on the sleeve is identical to the art on the slip, and the disc comes packaged in an eco-friendly case (less plastic, no holes), with no insert.
The Video and Audio
XLrator's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is remarkable for DVD. A huge chunk of the movie takes place in a dimly-lit mine -- the kind of material that DVDs and Blu-Rays seem to choke on most frequently -- and yet viewers will have to be looking extremely closely to notice the faintest traces of any artifacting or banding in this transfer. Although the image is soft and possibly a touch noisy, it's a natural softness, free of obvious signs of compression. The only real issue with the image is aliasing, especially on the thin, red credits.
Dolby Digital 5.1 is big and bold, with great range that adds to the movie's eeriness. The crumbling of walls and rocks rattles the floor, while a gunfight has great directionality, with the bullets whipping and whizzing all around the viewer. Every squish and squelch of a leg being pushed together is rendered in exquisitely gross detail. Later, the weird warbling of other-worldly phenomena has is rendered with just the right amount of creepy vibration. An excellent presentation on all fronts. No subtitles are provided, but TV closed-captioning can be activated if your set supports it.
None. Only an original theatrical trailer is included.
Parts of Dead Mine are fascinating, but the parts that aren't are actively frustrating. Although the film definitely deserves credit for the aspects it gets right, I'm not convinced those parts are worth sitting through the entire movie. Skip it.
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