What I'm Watching: Mine Games
I've been doing a lot of Trisklets these last few months trying to catch up on the stuff I watched earlier this year, but there've been a few exceptions where a movie has spoken to me, either for good or ill, that I just needed to get things down while they were still fresh in my brain.
Dead Still was one of those, on the side of the not so good.
Mine Games is another, but where does it fall?
I first came across this movie back in, geeze, May of this year? April? And the concept sounded fun, the trailer was cool, and it then got delayed from the release date I'd seen, it got renamed to "The Evil Within" if I remember correctly, and THEN it was renamed BACK to Mine Games before it finally got to me.
Which, quite frankly? Is one of my favourite titles of anything this entire year.
I have a lot of things that I *want* to say about this movie, words itching to come out, but I know they're the wrong words to use. I want to spit out that this movie is brilliant, but it's not. I want to shout how great this movie is, but I know better.
Much like Mischief Night, this movie just lands with me in such a way, that while yes, it DOES do some great, fun things, and I *thoroughly* enjoyed my time watching it, I can also acknowledge they are not great movies.
But since when did greatness matter to Trisk?
You get sucked in right away with some very VERY common tropes, of the college gang off to the deep dark woods to spend some time at a cabin, and we even begin right at the typical last gas station before civilisation retreats.
And if that was the entirety of the movie, if this was Just Another Cabin In The Woods movie...ugh, I would not have bothered. Even the trailer had me sighing at the idea. Oh. But oh, it doesn't stop there. Again, like Mischief Night, it gives you those familiar horror tropes, and then RIPS THEM AWAY and goes in a *completely* unexpected and different direction. They teased JUST enough in the trailer to make jaded, cynical Jason go from "Seen this before" to "I NEED TO SEE THIS NOW".
(So of course it then took five months to finally be released, but I digress...)
After pulling an "I Know What You Did Last Summer" with a guy in the road, they arrive at the cabin, and tiny little things start to go wrong and get weird. Nothing TOO out of the ordinary. The true weirdness doesn't hit until the gang finds an abandoned mine nearby and decide to go exploring.
As one does in these situations.
While down in the mine, things continue to get weird, until some of the group find a few dead bodies covered up in one of the storage rooms. Which would be more than enough in any other movie, but Mine Games? Mine Games goes that one extra, unbelievable step.
It's THEIR OWN BODIES.
Yep, stumbling around a dark, abandoned, already creepy as hell mine...and you find your own dead body.
And from that point on, the movie could do no wrong for me. The plot is inventive, the mystery actually unfolds (And folds right back in on itself) in such an interesting way that shows multiple versions of events, but the same version, and even adds on some great twists and turns to the ride that make things all the more satisfying AND confounding.
This kind of plot can turn out very dodgy, and Mine Games gets a little too caught up in the minutiae of its ideas. But the fact that they managed to work out so much is actually quite commendable. It is SO very hard to forget details in movies like this.
Sure, the whys of it all are never explained, but I don't really need them to be. I am content in "supernatural mine" being the explanation. I've seen some people argue that everything is all in a certain character's head, but that is A) unsatisfying for an explanation making the entire movie just a dream, B) too many other character - ALL OF THEM - experience the weirdness as well as Michael.
I was surprised at how much I even enjoyed the characters. There are no real familiar tropes here. There is no jock. There's no sex-crazed bimbo. There's no stoner...well, someone brings along mushrooms, but he's never played up as the jokey pothead we know so well from horror movies and comedies alike. The characters actually feel like genuine people in their own right, and not hastily scribbled familiar traits.
It's tough to say anything about Michael's descent into madness, because every character goes along for the ride down that road, but Michael's naturally stands out, since he's someone who's decided to go off his meds for the trip. That doesn't end well, to do that and end up with a creepy mind and familiar dead bodies. Joseph Cross does a great job selling the struggle this guy is going through, trying to figure out what's real and what isn't, and what to do about it.
Briana Evigan does a good job as Michael's girlfriend, constantly trying to help him, make sure he's okay, and generally trying to take care of the group as everything falls apart around her. She's easily the character you're most along the journey with, even though the story isn't really about her.
The writing may not be the best, but the dialogue pops fairly well, and feels natural enough. Everyone's arc comes full circle in ways you wouldn't expect, and I am just endlessly pleased with the movie makers catching almost every single ball they threw into the air in this juggling act, and even a few more balls that we never saw coming.
My biggest complaint is, sadly, with the mine itself. A lot of it is fine, because they did SOME filming in a real mine to help sell the idea. But a majority of it, for obvious safety reasons of IT'S A MINE, and for stunt reasons to boot, was filmed on a set. And it looks like a set. Badly. 1970s Doctor Who would look at this set and laugh. I've seen more realistic looking rock climbing walls. When such an *important* piece of your movie is the mine, and it really needs to exist as its own character, having it's production values be so low is such a shame. The mine needs to work, you need to believe it, and I just didn't.
Fortunately, the plot is THAT strong, in my opinion. Sure, it ends with a gigantic ball of "Wait...what?" but I love that, and it really does come together surprisingly well. Even with it leaving you scratching your head. I'd *almost* say better than Donnie Darko, but not quite. But does it ever come close to that.
If you are looking for one twisted mind trip of a movie that starts you off in familiar territory and then drags you along to a whole new level of WTF, you really must see this movie. Unique experiences like this must be enjoyed and nurtured, so we get more of them in the future.