The first screening of Richard Gray’s “Mine Games” at MIFF, was actually a world premiere. In fact, Gray mentioned in his introduction that the film was only finished a few weeks prior to the screening, while one of the actors in the film, Ethan Peck, explained that he hadn’t even seen the film yet. After reading the brief synopsis in the MIFF guide, it felt like that this film had been made just for me, because it seemed to cater to what I love most in cinema and because of this, it was a film I was greatly anticipating.
A group of seven friends head out to a friend’s holiday house out in the woods in search of a relaxing weekend full of partying and drinking with some swimming thrown in too. After almost hitting something on the road, the van they are all travelling in breaks down and the friends have to travel the final couple of miles on foot. When they finally reach the cabin, their friends are not at home. After finding a door that is unlocked, two of them enter the cabin to find out if they are in the right place. They find a letter addressed to them explaining that their friends had just gone out and would be back soon, so they all make themselves at home. After settling in for a bit, they decide to explore the area around them when they come across an old abandoned mine. They decide to check it out but are not at all ready for what they are about to find down there, which is their own dead bodies. Things continue to get weirder as the group tries to work out exactly what is going on, but is their fate already sealed? Are they already dead or is time bending in on itself?
From reading the above it is easy to see why I was so excited for “Mine Games”, a love a good mind-fuck film as well as films that turn out to be about a continual cycle that cannot be broken. The sad news is I hated this film. The story is so damn cool yet this film has been put together so badly that you wouldn’t know it. I am shocked at just how bad this film turned out to be and the main culprit is Richard Gray’s direction. The way he has told this story is so poor, but really there is a lot wrong with “Mine Games”. During his introduction, Gray talked about how they shot in a real mine, and while there are definite shots done in a legitimate mine, there are also a heap that are shot on a set, which all look terrible. The main problem is that the sets do not match with the real location at all, they look completely different. One set which has a broken bridge on it, is so poor it looks as if it was made for a school play. Cinematographer Greg De Marigny has to take a lot of the blame for this too because he has let far too much light in these scenes, exposing the deficiencies of the set. In fact the cinematography, especially the night time scenes or the scenes in the mine, is rather poor throughout. The mine is never dark enough, so it never feels real, and images always seem to look murky when a scene is set in the night. The only time the cinematography gets a pass mark is in the daytime scenes, especially the scene when they are swimming in the lake.
Performances are also terrible with only Briana Evigan (who incidentally was the only actor I recognized in the cast) giving a decent performance. No one is believable in the slightest, especially in the way they react to this extraordinary turn of events. A problem I had with the characters is the convenience that out of seven people travelling together, one amazingly was a medium, another was a schizophrenic who just happened to leave his meds behind, and another was a guy who was constantly drunk or on some form of drugs. They screamed of plot machinations far too obvious in a film of this nature. Other issues I had with the story was the fact that the writers struggled to find natural ways for these people to keep going back into the mine. It got to the point that the audience was laughing every time a character said “we have to go back”, it just got ridiculous. Another bone of contention was the one book someone decided to read in the cabin happened to explain a little about what was going on. In the book it talks about a snake that devours itself which causes its own immortality, because of this, over the soundtrack for the majority of the film we get constant sounds of snakes hissing or rattling. I am sure that it is meant to create atmosphere but it comes across as amateurish.
Despite of all of these flaws, the main idea of the film where the characters are stuck in a loop they cannot get out of or change, is so strong that towards the end of the film when we finally see the story loop in on itself, I actually found myself entertained briefly.
Overall I was bitterly disappointed by “Mine Games”. For a film with such a strong central idea to be made so poorly is frankly heartbreaking. This should have been gold, and I can’t help but wonder what the film could have been like if someone else had directed it. To see how this concept could be done better, you need to see Christopher Smith’s superior “Triangle” which has similar ideas but is a much better movie by far. Unfortunately I cannot recommend “Mine Games” at all in good conscience.