Natural disaster films had a strong theatrical presence for a good long while, with the 1970s being considered the golden age of the genre. Movies like The Poseidon Adventure and Backdraft are audience favorites and won several critical and industry awards. This is excluding any of the science fiction based titles such as The Day The Earth Caught Fire or Armageddon, which are more fantastical by their very nature.
Due to advancements in technology and the rise of computer-generated special effects, the 1990s saw a big revival of these epic survival stories. Eventually, the cinematic landscape shifted tides again, and these sorts of movies (with exceptions) went back out of favor. Arguably, the most underrepresented natural disaster is collapsed mines. There is Carol Reed’s 1939 The Stars Look Down and The 38, which made such a minor dent that I am not 100% certain that it the right title; IMDb informs me that its actual name is The 33, which just proves my point. Those are the only two that spring to mind for this subgenre. Now, into this shockingly rarified field enters Mine 9.
Written and directed by Eddie Mensore, Mine 9 follows nine coal miners from a small Appalachian town. While aware of how unsafe the mine is becoming, they vote to go two miles beneath the surface in order to extract more ore. However, once they get down there, a buildup of methane gas explodes. Aside from injuring the miners, the ensuing cave-in means that they are left with approximately an hour’s worth of air. Can a rescue team mount and find them in time?
“…nine coal miners from a small Appalachian town…go two miles beneath the surface…a buildup of methane gas explodes…”
Mensore’s screenplay branches out into the home lives of the miners and therein lies its problem. The miners who play the most significant roles are Zeke (Terry Serpico), Kenny (Mark Ashworth), Daniel (Kevin Sizemore), John (Clint James), Ryan (Drew Starkey), and Elroy (Alpha Trivette). Erin Elizabeth Burns as Teresa is not a miner exactly, but rather the corporate liaison, for lack of a better term. She’s pretty well fleshed out and gets a great moment to shine near the end. However, eagle-eyed viewers will notice that I only listed six actual miners.
Aside from expanding the death count, so a real threat can be felt, the other three could really be one and the same. Then there are everyone’s families, with wife Susie (Elizabeth Houston) Russell (Owen Vaccaro) being the only real memorable side characters. In part, this is because how much of the movie revolves around the child’s birthday. However, there is the character of Grace played by Francine Locke, and I could not name any single thing she does throughout the film. The same can be said for just about any person not directly connected to the mine in any way. There are just so many characters, and only a handful of them are memorable or developed in any substantial way.
That is not the fault of the actors, though, as everyone in the cast does an excellent job. Susie’s anger towards Teresa at the birthday party feels genuine and is played nicely by both thespians. After the collapse, one miner is asking for his arm to be sawed off (I don’t want to spoil who), but that particular actor is brilliant in that scene. As the youngest and newest member, Starkey plays Ryan with the right amount of naivete and optimism. It stands as an interesting contrast to the career fight he has with the character’s father.
“Matthew Boyd’s cinematography finds the right balance between the real world look of its setting and stylized, intense lighting to add to the atmosphere.”
However, what really allows Mine 9 to soar is the directing and cinematography. Despite taking place at night and in claustrophobic, poorly lit Earthen tunnels, Mine 9 looks terrific. Matthew Boyd’s cinematography finds the right balance between the real world look of its setting and stylized, intense lighting to add to the atmosphere.
Mensore jumps back and forth between the different groups of miners, as not everyone was in the same place during the cave in, and the rescue efforts up top with ease. Each moment builds onto the last, creating tension with masterful editing, which keeps viewer engagement high. The makeup effects on the worn down miners are also impressive and really sells the danger they are facing.
Mine 9 juggles too many characters, but it works in just about every other way. The acting is fantastic, the editing is dynamic, the directing subtlety builds tension, and the ending is really good. While not perfect, it is absolutely worth seeking out.
Mine 9 (2019) Directed by Eddie Mensore. Written by Eddie Mensore. Starring Terry Serpico, Mark Ashworth, Kevin Sizemore, Clint James, Drew Starkey, Alpha Trivette, Erin Elizabeth Burns, Elizabeth Houston, Owen Vaccaro.
8 out of 10 Hard Hats