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The Tunnel   C+

Bloodshot Pictures

Year Released: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Ramzi Abed
Writers: Ramzi Abed, Casey Wickson
Cast: Casey Wickson, Mark Borchardt, Lloyd Kaufman, Patricia Campbell, Jerry Don Clark, Eric Fleming, Masuimi Max.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

The Tunnel, a 35-minute short film directed by Ramzi Abed, is a movie that most people will either love or hate, which is why it's puzzling that my feelings about it are somewhere in the middle. David Lynch fans may want to take note, though, as this film is obviously inspired by Lynch's ominous, moody dreamscapes. But is it any good? Yes and no.

The movie begins with the main character, Paul (Casey Wickson), shaving and purposefully nicking his face with the razor. Ouch. After a minute or so, the screen cryptically fades to black (it does that a lot), and then fades in to show Paul straightening his tie and walking out the door to go to work. So far, so good. The movie has established a strange, ominous mood. Then Paul has to open his mouth and ruin it. Outside, after a paperboy shouts, "Three o'clock!" Paul says:

"Time. Time is not a thing. You cannot use time or make up for lost time. You cannot spend time. You cannot waste time. Time is a measurement of how dead you are... to the very second. You cannot kill time because time kills you."
Okay, then.

I laughed, and it killed the mood. That's the tricky thing about a movie like this: the director must keep the viewer under the film's dreamlike spell. And if you toss bits of bizarre humor in with the bleak atmosphere, you've got a precarious balancing act to perform. With movies like Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, Lynch has this act down to an art form. Ramzi Abed, on the other hand, fumbles from time to time.

The scenes in Paul's office, void of dialogue or action -- aside from the dead bodies rolling past his open door on gurneys every few minutes -- have a queasy, nightmarish quality. But soon the film moves into less interesting territory that doesn't work as well. I didn't care for the surreal poker game featuring Lloyd Kaufman (the head of Troma Entertainment) and Mark Borchardt (of American Movie fame). It drew me out of the film's mesmerizing spell, as it was a bit too silly. Lloyd Kaufman, however, has a knack for being creepy and funny at the same time.

On the other side of the coin, the scenes in a darkly lit restaurant work beautifully, managing to be both spellbinding and strangely erotic. As Paul has a life-changing encounter with his girlfriend (which is handled pretty well, but might have worked better without dialogue), the stunningly beautiful Masuimi Max dances seductively in the back of the room, in the gloom and shadows, and this lends the scene a surreal, weird kind of eroticism that hints at what a brilliant director Ramzi Abed could be given the right material to work with.

As far as I can tell, the movie is about love, rejection, depression, and death. But for a movie with such weighty themes running through, it's oddly unmoving. Like its central character, The Tunnel seems to be in a catatonic daze. Sometimes I was drawn into that daze, letting the truly wicked soundtrack immerse me in its world, while other times I was annoyed at the film for snapping me out of it. At 35 minutes, it's an interesting short film from a director who may very well turn out something brilliant sometime soon. It's like a weird dream -- the kind you just have to tell your best friend about after waking up, but then can't seem to remember much about an hour later. Except maybe the corpses rolling by on gurneys, or that beautiful girl dancing in the shadows.

Review published 02.21.2002.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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