Thursday, November 24, 2011

Nine Miles Down (2009)

Science, superstitions and madness in Africa

The story of "Nine Miles Down" is something in the vicinity of "The Shining" meets "The Thing" meets "The Andromeda Strain" with, of course, their own characteristics and not as overblown of a budget. This is a psychological thriller about an ambitious science project that comes with its share of local superstitions. This is what "The Devil's Tomb" wanted to be from the same year about security sent out into the desert to investigate mysterious happenings at a remote site but then a routine job turns into a life changer with what is found lurking in the shadows.

A lone security officer named Thomas Jackman arrives at a location in Central Sahara, North Africa called Jebel Afra that houses a drilling site. An entire team was supposed to be there but all he finds are empty hallways with puzzling and somewhat disturbing evidence left behind--such as overzealous video diaries, an eviscerated jackal and bloody writing on the walls done by the local superstitious workers--till he runs into a Dr. Jennie Christianson who was a research colleague of the head of their team Professor Borman. She explains Borman was killed by Dr. Ivanov, their chief geologist, and another man named Dr. Varga died of a heart attack.

Despite having a murder investigation on their hands, the company is stretched thin and headquarters wants Jackman to stay put in case others show up but with Christianson somewhat pushy to get out under suspicious reasons. Both are at odds when there is some discussion about science and losing human emotions versus the supernatural and giving into fears, to which Christianson leans towards the former and Jackman the latter. They question whether Hell is a state of mind or actually physical and if it's possible to dig towards it. Apart from their tentative talks, something doesn't add up about her suave demeanor and Jackman interrogates her to find out the truth of what happened and what she's not saying. As he gets more deeply involved the more he can't trust his own perceptions that he's being played and seduced by something evil released from the drilling site nine miles below or is it all in his head from never getting over his wife's death, or possibly both or something else?

There are memorably framed and atmospheric shots of the surroundings that give the isolated setting some personality. This has some pretty effective looking visual effects that take Jackman's hallucinations to abstract levels, such as a continuously endless mirror shot in front and back where some of the images stand still and go with the person's movement while others come alive. The dialogue and delivery has some miscues and misfires on occasion either the way something was phrased awkwardly or came out somewhat too simplistic for what is portrayed. Kate Nauta, who plays the sexy blonde Jennie Christianson, carries the right presence and poses though some of her actual line delivery felt like just that at times without always giving more. Fortunately there were other aspects to cover up for the fact and her character is still able to elude giving away her true nature and motivations. Adrian Paul's character seems to take his performance in stride at first to represent how a normal person would perceive the extraordinary events. Though he slowly--partly due to tight direction and editing--steps it up till there's no looking back from at first being scared of his own shadow to having a full blown, paranoid breakdown that includes maniacal laughs, cries and head grabbing states of confusion from seeing what's really there or not seeing it at all.

"Nine Miles Down" opens up somewhat averagely and downplayed as the tension and atmosphere isn't always constant, but more in the form of periodic intervals with rises and falls of warning tremors. There are some basic areas that aren't as dressed up and other portions that are ineffectual to keep the audience at bay and from guessing the outcome. The ride is still steady, just not a rip roaring adventure till its latter portion when it turns full blown into a psychological pulse pounder of madness and second guesses of who can be trusted. Just when you think it can't get any worse and the storms have subsided, it keeps pulling the viewer back in and leaves one with a few different angles to debate.

Rating: 7.5/10

Director: Anthony Waller (Mute Witness, An American Werewolf in Paris, The Guilty)
Stars: Adrian Paul, Kate Nauta, Amanda Douge, Anthony Waller
Link: IMDB

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