Dead mine is a horror film that takes the thoroughly overused trope of Nazi medical experiments run amok and tries to spice it up a bit by replacing the Nazis with the Japanese Imperial Army. Although not very original in terms of plot and containing heavily stereotyped characters this film does have some good things going for it.
For example it is almost entirely devoid of the jump scare combined with loud intrusive soundtrack that most lazily made horror films rely on to “scare” the viewer these days. When there is a jump it is always justified by the action or the plot, such as it is. The soundtrack too is creepy and ethereal mixing weird electronic music and (what appears to be) vintage Japanese military music. The surround was also quite effective in spreading the jungle sounds or the dripping water in the mine around the room.
There isn’t much to say about the characters but I’ll give you a brief rundown. There is an obnoxious privileged American who is rude to all the people who could help him first in his quest of discovery and later in his quest to survive. His girlfriend seems to have tagged along on this dangerous trip just to run around and scream when things get heavy. A Japanese researcher is there to add weight to the idea that the team is doing valuable historic work and to provide translation in the second act. The final member of the group is a hard-bitten English engineer who just happened to previously be in the army and is a borderline psychopath. Suffice to say he doesn’t do a whole lot of engineering in this film.
This team of misfits is in the Jungle looking for the remains of Japanese army bases for reasons which aren’t initially clear but ultimately are of no consequence as they are just a pretence to get the group in the right place at the right time for all the nasty stuff the writers have planned for the second and third acts.
Our intrepid team of adventurers are joined by a stereotype band of “soldiers”. I assume they are mercenaries as they work for the unnamed company that the American’s father owns but they are referred to as soldiers throughout. There’s the captain who’s cool and ruthless. The sergeant is big and tough and fires a light machine gun from the hip like he’s in the A-Team. There’s a generic private who goofs about and tries to pull the female civilians. And another random bloke who’s just there to make up the numbers.
Once they have found the mine they are looking for, the group are inexplicably attacked by “pirates” shooting at them from the surrounding hills. In predictable American style (despite all the combatants being Indonesian) the soldiers respond with thousands of rounds and miss everyone despite having plenty of clear shots and superior fire power. It doesn’t matter of course as this is just another pretence to force the party into the mine. The most annoying thing for me about this scene was that as soon as they take cover in the mine entrance, a grenade rolls through the entrance and explodes, seriously injuring one of the soldiers and sealing them in the mine. This would be fine except that seconds ago all the attackers were up on hills on the other side of a valley, nowhere near close enough to be throwing grenades. Again a lazy bit of writing to ensure that the team cannot leave the mine.
From this point on you can really guess what happens. Needless to say, they find evidence of horrific medical experiments. Some of this evidence is still alive and sets out to kill the team one by one. Once the party enters the mine, there is a lot of wandering about in tunnels followed by running about in tunnels and dying. We’ve arrived at the point that we get to at some point in most horror films where it is just a case of waiting to find out who is going to die next and how.
The interior shots of the mine are well filmed and once they get to the military parts, anyone who is interested in urbex might well enjoy the cinematography. Much of the second act is spent exploring the bunker and it is nice to see a film taking the time to set the scene and develop the atmosphere of the location instead of diving straight into the killing. Once the dwindling group of survivors are running around trying to escape death in the third act, you have a feeling that you know the tunnels they are hurtling around well. Disappointingly much of the action takes place in crudely dug tunnels under the base which the director obviously likes for their claustrophobic atmosphere but which are significantly less interesting to look at.
There is surprisingly little blood or gore or even violence in this film. Anything that happens feels justified by the, admittedly twisted, logic of the film. The Japanese don’t recognise the end of the war so it is unsurprising that they try to kill people who infiltrate their base. The creatures have been bred to guard the base and so it is also unsurprising that they try to kill any strangers they meet. Much of the cruelty and violence that many modern horror films delight in shoving in your face has happened 70 years in the past and we only encounter the aftermath.
Also interesting is that there are several different kinds of enemy our band face here. Initially they fight the human pirates who are a very conventional enemy. Later they run into some actual WWII Japanese Imperial soldiers who are initially aggressive but actually reasonable when convinced the was has been over for a while. Then there are the strange creatures who live in the tunnels, abandoned products of the experiments performed on POWs. For some inexplicable reason these creatures wear masks which are removed at the end of the film by the final set of enemies, presumably setting them free to do as they wish.
The final enemy group are elite Imperial Guard type soldiers who used the results of the experiments to make themselves immortal and powerful. They wear samurai armour and swords and seem to be completely unstoppable. For some reason the remaining members of the original group engage these creatures hand to hand one at a time and unsurprisingly die doing it.
The ending is left slightly ambiguous which is always nice.