HBO Asia’s debut production, Dead Mine, sees a group of explorers headed by treasure hunter Price (Les Loveday) travel deep into the jungles of Sulawesi in the hope of finding the fabled lost gold of WWII Japanese General Yamashita. Tagging along for the expedition is Price’s girlfriend Su Ling (Carmen Soon), researcher Rie (Miki Muzuno) and engineer Stanley (Sam Hazeldine) as well as several native mercenaries (including The Raid’s Joe Taslim). Things soon take a turn for the worse when the group is ambushed by pirates and subsequently forced to retreat down an abandoned mine. However, as the explorers journey further into the dark depths of the Indonesian mine it soon becomes apparent that our intrepid heroes aren’t the only ones down there…
Director/writer Steven Sheil and co-writer Ziad Semaan have produced a very ambitious film; the duo incorporating several established horror tropes and mapping them into a very unfamiliar environment. The Indonesian jungle backdrop makes for an unconventional, but welcome setting for a horror movie, whilst although not as original, the underground scenes are expertly handled by the director. However, without spoiling Dead Mine for you, its highlight can be summarised in two words – Zombie Samurai. The primary threat of Dead Mine, these innovatively designed, armour-clad Japanese warriors provide a menacing, aesthetically unique addition to the zombie horror genre. As the first original feature for HBO Asia, Dead Mine heralds great things from the fledgling film company. Sheil’s film boasts excellent production value that bodes well for the studio’s future ventures.
Nevertheless, Dead Mine does suffer from some pitfalls, namely it’s very convoluted plot. There’s just too much going on, and at times whilst viewing Dead Mine I felt that I was being subjected to several horror films at once. One minute, our luckless explorers are being dragged underground by mutated Gollum-esque creatures (which inevitably echoed 2005’s The Descent), then the next they’re being pursued down corridors by undead Samurai. By the final act some of the characters’ actions just felt illogical, and one couldn’t help but feel that some choices are made purely to facilitate the plot’s conclusion. Sheill and Semaan clearly have an exceptional grasp of the genre, which is why it’s such a shame that the duo couldn’t have condensed certain elements of the film down.
Furthermore, as a consequence of this overly elaborate plot, I struggled to empathise with any of the characters, none of whom are ever developed in any detail. This problem is exacerbated by the terrible acting of the British cast. In contrast to the Asian performers, such as Miki Muzuno and Joe Taslim who both turn in decent performances, Loveday and Hazeldine were just painful to watch, and I couldn’t help but wince every time a line was uttered by the pseudo-militaristic engineer Stan (a character with a truly laughable back story).
Nonetheless, although it has its downfalls, Dead Mine makes for an excellent B movie that you could easily while away a few hours watching, Sheil producing a visually impressive and delightfully absurd horror film.
Image by Deniz Oylum via Flickr