An intense prison-break drama that fails to seize its chances as effectively as its jailbird protags, “The Bones Tunnel” promises more than it delivers. Nacho Garassino’s feature debut ties its standard escape yarn to the murky events of Argentina’s troubled political history, a premise that could have made for an exciting and thought-provoking item. But although it’s watchable enough, the result fails to set either the pulse or mind racing. Still, “Tunnel” retains enough interest to suggest that Spanish-speaking territories could see the light.
Opening scene shows seven men emerging from under a sidewalk and running off, suggesting the pic has deeper concerns than the simple issue of will they/won’t they get away. Journalist Ricardo (Jorge Sesan) is summoned by one of the escapees, Vulcano (Raul Taibo), who has decided to reveal the story of the escape to the press while his gang is still on the run, an apparently foolhardy strategy that’s explained fully later.
Pic’s narrative is thus Vulcano’s extended flashback as written down by Ricardo. An inmate worker in the hospital in Buenos Aires’ high-security Devoto jail, Vulcano learns that there is an abandoned tunnel from the hospital; superstitious prisoners mutter about hearing screams coming from it. Vulcano puts together an escape team, including hulking Toro (Daniel Valenzuela), El Correntino (Luciano Cazaux) and Boyfriend (Martin Scarfi), to dig their way out.
Much time is devoted to the practicalities of escaping, which largely involves the theft of hospital implements from under the nose of a doctor (Dario Levy) who prefers to overlook the larceny. The tensions within the gang are likewise explored, such as the fact that Boyfriend is set for early release, raising the chance that he’ll blab.
So far, so straightforward. The team’s shocking discovery in the tunnel of bones, which might belong to victims of Argentina’s military dictatorship, could have supplied an extra layer of complexity and intrigue, but the script generates little of either beyond explaining Vulcano’s decision to talk to Ricardo and thus bring the prison’s hidden history to light. Pic shuttles back and forth in time smoothly enough, but the strategy fails to generate much extra tension.
Characters are the standard rogue’s gallery, and the tense dynamics between them are handled well. Each character is given his own little backstory, but none is developed, and a couple could have been shed without any damage. As Vulcano, Taibo exudes a suitable air of quiet danger.
Lensing is efficient and makes the most of the tunnel’s tight spaces, while the interior of the jail is plausibly grim, but the doom-laden electronic droning is overused and feels like an easy way to generate atmospherics. Pic inadvertently doubles as a testament to the almost comic inefficiency of the Argentinian prison system, with the inmates working undetected for months. But the fact that the pic is based on a real-life incident from the early ’90s suggests that in this case, truth is stranger than fiction.