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.
The Video and Audio
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.