There’s some effective filmmaking in the central section of this picture written and directed by Eddie Mensore. These scenes depict the collapse of a section of a West Virginia coal mine, trapping nine men inside. Flooding and gas buildup combine with very cramped quarters as the men await rescue, unsure if anyone on the ground miles above them even knows they’re alive.
The goings-on are grim, grueling and, eventually, grisly. Mensore shoots them with a sharp eye for maintaining coherent spatial relations, which enhances the suspense. It’s a sometimes bracing simulation.
The material with which Mensore surrounds this ordeal is not as compelling. Although he was raised in West Virginia and has some experience in this milieu, he nevertheless manages to pack his depiction of a small-town mining community with clichés.
For example, it just so happens that one of the miners who winds up trapped is a first-timer, the teenage son of a grizzled (they’re all grizzled, from Terry Serpico as the team’s leader on down) veteran.
That’s tired enough. But the movie also gives the kid a restless girlfriend who berates him before he goes down: “I don’t have time to sit in this town and wait for you.”
The movie ends with a long credit sequence that features interviews with real-life miners. We are meant to admire their resilience, but we are just as likely to be nettled by how their sentiments buttress this movie’s fatalism. The conditions are dangerous, the management is unprepared, the Mine Safety and Health Administration is a perpetual tail-dragger, but the miners keep going down anyway. The movie’s implication that the untenable conditions are just “the way it is” is complacent at best.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 23 minutes.