Must-See Movie Review: 'Tunnel' ('Teo-neol') Will Keep You Riveted

Survival stories often make you think the protagonist will endure the dark times ahead. Not in “Tunnel” (“Teo-neol”), an edge of your seat survival thriller that starts out with a busy business and family man making his way through a hectic day.

In South Korea, Lee Jung-Soo (Ha Jung-woo) is trying to get home for his little daughter's birthday party and close a big deal. He has her birthday cake in the car, and he is headed back. After getting his tank filled up in a heartbreaking scene of an employee doing their best, Lee Jung-Soo journeys into a tunnel.

In a horrifyingly catastrophic scene, the tunnel crumbles, and he gets trapped inside. Lee Jung-Soo can use his cell phone and places a call to emergency services, which eventually leads to a massive rescue operation getting underway.

That unexpected development puts “Tunnel” in a surprising a place as it transports viewers out of the airtight atmosphere its lead finds himself in.

“Tunnel” is as much about the journey of the man trapped inside, as it is the man who is trying to free him from the outside. All the while, focusing on the trapped man's grief-stricken wife. The scenario is intense, making the alternative perspectives a welcomed breath of air.

Too many movies have attempted a first-person narrative. The approach taken in “Tunnel” captures enough of that angle to drive its point across without the walls having to close in on around the viewer.

What has befallen Lee Jung-Soo is a disaster. “Tunnel” approaches its story like a thriller without a flesh and blood opponent working against its hero. Lee Jung-Soo’s enemy is the elements.

His opponent is time, infection, the odds, and outlying external forces. They are just as real as any villain would be to his well-being. Throughout it all, there are moments of fleeting hope accompanied by devastating disappointments.

The result is a movie that has such an arresting grip, that its effects prove visceral. An elevated heart-rate should be expected. It is not because of jump scares either. It is because “Tunnel” does such a masterful job of enveloping viewers into the experience of its characters.

Their hopes, fears, and frustrations are tangible to watch. It digs in with impressive stamina as its riveting story makes you wonder how it will turn out.

There are no easy answers, and the potential of an unhappy ending permeates the entire film. This is a nail-biter with a lot of heart as it probes what it means to face death when you are still very much alive. It is not the most comfortable thing to contemplate, and “Tunnel” does a fantastic job of exploring all of its nuances.

“Tunnel” poignantly tackles what it means for a person to confront their imminent death, as their loved one deals with the tragic possibility. Meanwhile, there is the compassionate soul, who is trying to prevent both from having to say goodbye.

Just as he did with his sensational thriller “A Hard Day,” director Seong-hun Kim keeps the adrenaline pumping, while finding the moments of character-driven drama in between.

As Lee Jung-Soo, Ha Jung-woo is as captivating as ever. His performance is every bit as searing as his turns in “The Handmaiden,” “The Client,” and “The Yellow Sea.”

Ha Jung-woo is one of those compelling screen presences that can hold your interest in any scenario. As the highly motivated husband and father struggling to survive under harrowing circumstances, he is heartbreaking and consummately stirring.

“Tunnel” would not create the emotion it does without actor Oh Dal-su bringing a ferocity that lights a fire within the audience as his character, Dae-kyung, fights to save Lee Jung-Soo. Meanwhile, Bae Doona is terrific as Lee Jung-Soo's loyal and devastated wife.

This is one of those rare films that hits on all of the emotional levels. It creates tension, tears, and comic relief when appropriate. “Tunnel” zeroes in on everything a survival movie should.

It says a lot about the surrounding aspects that have haunted similar real-life ordeals as its fictional tale unfolds. Throughout it all, “Tunnel” keeps you wondering if it will give its audience a happy or devastating ending to its conundrum. Few films have been as searing.

Rating: 8.5/10

“Tunnel” (“Teo-neol”) is currently streaming on Netflix, along with other high-quality content.

[Featured Image by Showbox]