“ABANDONED MINE” (Movie Review)News Michael Gingold
I was hoping—against hope, I suppose—that the title of ABANDONED MINE might have a double meaning, a metaphoric reference to losses the characters have suffered. But no, it means exactly what it seems, and so does the movie.
Actually, given that the film (now in select theaters and on-demand, and hitting DVD October 1) was originally called just THE MINE, that new moniker may well have been applied simply to bump it to the top of alphabetical VOD lists. There is a bit of wistful discussion among the young protagonists about how their lives are changing and this may be the last time they see each other, which is rather odd since the story is set not post-graduation, but on Halloween night. If that sounds like a timeworn device, consider that there’s a big stalk-and-attack sequence that turns out to be a friendly prank and a trying-on-costumes-to-pop-music montage in the first 10 minutes, and you’ll have some idea of what you’re in for.
The ringleader of our central quintet is Brad (Reiley McClendon), former football hero and a bit of a douchebag, who organizes an All Hallows’ Eve excursion to the allegedly haunted Jarvis Mine. His pals are overweight party-heartier Jim (Adam Hendershott), Brad’s former girlfriend Laurie (Saige Thompson) and current squeeze Sharon (Alexa Vega)—yes, the gals are largely defined by their relationships to a guy—and Laurie’s Indian friend Ethan (Charan Prabhakar), who exists mostly to be the butt of cheap jokes about his heritage and malapropisms. At first, they decline to head underground and instead set up a campfire outside, where the legend of the site is related. It just so happens that it’s (almost) the 100th anniversary of a horrible crime: As first established in an opening-credits old-newspaper montage that might put some viewers in mind of THE BOOGENS, William Jarvis and his daughters were brutalized and buried alive in the mine—a backstory that, if dramatized, would have held a lot more horrific possibilities than anything that actually follows.
Of course, a passing thunderstorm forces the group into the mine, whereupon they keep wandering into its deeper and more dangerous areas; this isn’t the spelunking adventurousness of the women of THE DESCENT, but “Hey guys, come and check this out!” foolishness. Brad has outfitted everybody with helmet-cams so they can “make a movie about this later,” a device that allows actor-turned-first-time-writer/director Jeff Chamberlain to throw a little found-footage action into the mix. What they see and what we get is endless wandering through the rocky, unstable tunnels, second-hand dramatics, the wasting of the spunky, sympathetic Vega’s talents and not nearly enough actually happening before a latecoming story twist that is clearly telegraphed well in advance of its arrival.
Cinematographer Brian Sullivan—an assistant cameraman on THE BOOGENS, coincidentally—does a nice job of capturing the scenic Utah locations and negotiating the darkness of the mine while keeping the action visible enough; the problem is that the action is sporadic at best. ABANDONED MINE’s horrors are bloodless in both senses of the word, and the much-discussed threat of the ghosts of Jarvis and his girls, plus the possibility that they might be seeking to possess human hosts, turn out to be red herrings. The aforementioned plot turn attempts to send the movie into morality-play territory, which might have worked had there been more rooting interest in these kids. As it stands, you’ll probably want to leave the ABANDONED MINE and its occupants behind a lot sooner than the characters do.