In 2012 the direct-to-video market saw the release of Dead Mine. This Indonesian horror-action movie is about the son of a millionaire who sets about to explore a little known Japanese WWII bunker in Sulawesi. While hoping to find treasure, he and his crew are forced deep into the mine after pirates attack. Once down there, they encounter a Japanese super soldier. The seemingly immortal enemy picks them off one by one, believing the Second Great War to be still happening.
It is pretty darn superb, all things considered. It contains good acting, reasonably intelligent characters, a terrific sense of atmosphere, and hard-hitting action that will leave your jaw on the floor. So, what exactly does a six-year-old movie have to do with anything? Well, to better understand how exactly Bunker: Project 12 suffers by comparison.
During the Cold War, the USSR government brought their brightest minds together for a secret project. They were tasked with creating a formula to make the average Russian healthier, stronger, and with greater endurance than any other nation’s populace. Of course, the military applications of such a find couldn’t be ignored. However, then the Cold War began winding down, so several scientists jumped shipped before everything was finished.
“…tasked with creating a formula to make the average Russian healthier, stronger, and with greater endurance than any other nation’s populace.”
Cut to modern day, where somebody is hunting and killing these old scientists. Tabeel (Joaquín Sánchez) is hired to find the remaining ones and not kill them. Instead, he and his team need to keep the project managers alive, as they individually hold just one part to the entrance combination to the long-abandoned bunker where the project was being conducted. Once in, Tabeel, his team, scientists Henderson (Eric Roberts), and Balanowsky (James Cosmo) discover what is in there that somebody would murder for- entirely obedient, unkillable, super strong soldiers that will only serve one person.
The Bunker: Project 12’s (also known as Project 12: The Bunker) first half is a bit dull. This section is mainly about the tracking and killing of important people in the experiment. In part this boredom is because, aside from Henderson and Balanowsky, the audience does not know any of these scientists; and information about those two comes later in the film. However, it does showcase a willingness from writer-director Jaime Falero (co-written with star Sánchez) to concentrate on characters and plot. Henderson is set to retire from his research and development company and delivers a speech on his legacy and hopes for the future of the company. This comes around in a big way at the end, which will reward audience members paying close attention. Tabeel has a great arc and seeing him drop his anything-goes way to help everyone at the end is engaging.
However, most of the characters are one dimensional or simple filler to be killed off later. Tabeel’s teammates exist but don’t ask me to name any of them. Same goes for the killers, hot on the trial of Tabeel, as I am not sure who they are or what they added. Turning Tabeel’s team into the only one, and not killers, but burglars being paid to retrieve each piece would excise the screenplay of its extraneous characters in a seamless manner, while not changing the structure of the story too much. See, each scientist does not need to be killed to move this portion of the story along; only their piece of the puzzle into the bunker is required. Balanowsky seems to be kept around solely as a foil to Henderson. He offers so little to the narrative, after his initial kidnapping, that having him already be dead and the key is found at his house is an entirely reasonable way to rewrite
“…Sánchez is a dynamic leading presence and absolutely owns the action beats.”
Once we arrive at the bunker of the title, things pick up considerably though. The fight scenes are exciting and the fate of the few fleshed out characters keeps the audience engaged. The reason for this is quite simple, Falero is a better director than writer. The opening sequence on a bus is pure action goodness, from the editing to way the music swells, it is how to grab the audience’s attention right away. Alas, when the characters are just standing around talking, there is no need for such flash, so the movie does not entirely engage on the same level.
Eric Roberts, who seems to be in 200 movies a year, clearly having a blast in his role. Joaquín Sánchez is a dynamic leading presence and absolutely owns the action beats. The rest of the cast all do fine, if not exactly memorable work.
One will be entertained by The Bunker: Project 12 for the duration of its runtime. However, despite strong visual flair, the viewer will be hard pressed to recall specific plot details by the time the end credits finish rolling. If you have a hankering for this type of film, Dead Mine exists and is better in every imaginable way.
The Bunker: Project 12 (2018) Directed by Jaime Falero. Written by Jaime Falero, Joaquín Sánchez. Starring Joaquín Sánchez, Eric Roberts, James Cosmo, Timothy Gibbs.
6 Gummi Bears (out of 10 stars)