After the romantic drama that was Summer Coda, writer/director Richard Gray makes a surprising shift into the horror genre with Mine Games.
The film starts conventionally enough: a group of recent college graduates are off to spend time in a house in the country (read: cabin in the woods) when their car has to swerve to narrowly miss a stranger in the middle of the road. After rupturing the petrol tank, they decide to head to the house on foot since it’s only a couple of miles up the road. Once they reach their destination, they discover an abandoned mine in the woods nearby and like all sensible, mature adults, decide it would be superfun to explore said mine.
Despite the familiar trappings, Mine Games isn’t quite your run-of-the-mill horror. Gray was in attendance at my MIFF screening and was quick to point out that he doesn’t consider the film a horror as such, but more of a ‘slow burn thriller’. I’d have to disagree, because the pacing, tone and gore certainly belong more to the horror than the thriller genre. When I think ‘slow burn thriller’, I think Hidden (Caché), which this most definitely is not. What we do have is a clear example of the type of circular insanity film that we’ve seen before in the likes of, say, the Melissa George-starring Triangle. Unfortunately, that ghost ship film was a better example of the sub-genre, as Mine Games suffers from an underdeveloped screenplay.
There are many decent ideas here, to be sure, but I felt the script was in dire need of a rewrite or two. The pacing is fine however the narrative is rather clumsy. For example, we have various characters going from the house to the mine and back again on roughly ten occasions. In fact, there was a good 15 minutes of the movie which featured various folk going back and forth between the two locations constantly. Of course, even more problematic was the likelihood that, in reality, anyone would go there once, much less return to the spooky mine where they regularly find themselves terrified, confused and disoriented.
There’s an impressive list of performers on show in Mine Games – a who’s who of young Hollywood talent. Having a look at the filmographies of the players, you’ll see a number of names from other horror films, comedies and the Twilight movies. Everyone’s good looking and sincere, but the script doesn’t really put much effort into differentiating them, except for one character who is on medication for schizophrenia and another who is part of an ethnic minority and thus of course imbued with links to the spirit world (prompting flashbacks of the lazy characterisation present in the short-lived TV series ‘The River’).
Mine Games is well crafted even if it’s apparent that the film was made on a shoestring budget. This would matter not, however, if the script were up to scratch. A patchy horror film, it may appeal to those who appreciate the circular insanity of films such as the aforementioned Triangle or Polanski’s The Tenant, even if it doesn’t compare too favourably to those features.Rating: