My horror adventures always take me to such interesting places, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before I ended up in an old WWII Japanese underground bunker found in the wilds of Indonesia. Go hunting for Yamashita’s Gold they said. It’ll be totally safe they said. Well what they didn’t say was mutated science experiments still inhabit the mine who aren’t too keen on accepting visitors. Damn, the treasure hunting game sure is getting dangerous these days, but it’s not that unexpected as Dead Mine is just another “greedy young dick leads a crack team of specialists into a dangerous location looking for riches but instead finds evil monsters who don’t take kindly to their presence” film. You know, the usual.
Coming off his first directorial effort Mum & Dad, writer/director Steven Sheil has once again drifted into very specific genre territory with Dead Mine. Following a group of explorers/security personnel brought together by a privileged son coming from a wealthy family, the party becomes trapped in a supposedly abandoned mine from WWII while eluding gunfire from masked assailants. After motivations are uncovered and everyone knows they’re on nothing but a wild goose chase for Yamashita’s Gold, Stanley (Sam Hazeldine) becomes a leader of sorts as our characters press deeper into the mines in search of an exit. But instead of salvation, only suffering is found, as the bunker is revealed to have housed some of Japan’s biological warfare experimentation – and the experiments still inhabit the bunker. From here Sheil’s film turns into a story of survival against an undead army of mutants, playing out like a cut-rate version of The Descent with more “action” sequences and less actual horror.
While Dead Mine isn’t exactly a golden nugget sifted out of mounds of genre dirt, Sheil is nice enough to spin a genuinely creative story around a popular sub-genre of horror which simply sees trapped victims wage a claustrophobic survival attempt. We’ve seen greedy treasure hunters be killed before, but have we ever seen them killed by zombie-like prisoners of war from WWII, and some other secret baddies from Japanese culture? Hell, even the promise of Yamashita’s Gold is a welcome bounty for Sheil’s film because it’s a historical background I’m not accustomed to in my horror films, which automatically gives Dead Mine points for ingenuity.
As far as casting goes, you’ll recognize two familiar faces in Joe Taslim and Sam Hazeldine, and by familiar I mean you’ve watched a ton of movies and have seen these guys appear once or twice.
That isn’t Taslim’s fault though, because this badass Indonesian action star didn’t explode until Gareth Evans’ martial-arts insta-classic The Raid: Redemption. Thanks to misguiding marketing though, I was saddened to find Taslim was only one of the soldiers and not a true main character in Dead Mine, as Sheil’s film could have used a few more high-flying mile-a-minute action sequences featuring Taslim kicking undead ass.
Hazeldine does his best to play the brooding survivalist who immediately ditches the plan for money and gives our Daddy’s boy the finger when gold still weighs heavily on certain group member’s decisions. There is a certain staleness and over-masculinity though that overplays his survival mentality, putting his character a level or two below where the likes of Jason Statham might be placed. Same gravely voice, same bad attitude, same action-oriented mentality – but definitely without some of the necessary charisma and performance pizazz.
What Sheil manages to establish in creativity is lost due to a lack of excitement though, as Dead Mine fails to utilize the claustrophobic terror and battle-tested cast for some epic soldier versus undead mutant abomination action. The overpowering dominance of those “guarding Yamashita’s Gold” makes the fight for survival almost meaningless, yet the dread of annihilation is sucked out by hammy deaths and the boring easiness in which characters are dispatched of. There really isn’t any struggle or fight, it’s more or less just a dull march onward into death’s clutches – one that unfortunately ignores scares and entertainment all too often.
Dead Mine is undoubtedly a clever little idea for an action driven horror flick, but sadly not one that effectively delivers on those genre promises. Going through the typical motions which include ulterior motives, scumbag character reveals, inevitable screwed-ness, and the eventual unveiling of some hideous creatures who want our characters dead, Sheil’s movie feels like nothing more than a copy and paste of the same formula utilized time and time again. The names and places have changed, but the meaty material is the same – and unfortunately Dead Mine doesn’t make us forget that.
Getting down and dirty with Dead Mine isn't the worst cinematic decision you can make, but this adventurer found his excursion a fruitless and unfulfilling one in the terms of finding hidden gems.