If you thought the London Underground was unnerving, wait until you see The Tunnel, a new horror movie set in one of the capital’s most hidden-in-plain sight locations.
With its centuries of grand history and array of well-known and untold stories, London’s creepy atmosphere provides the perfect setting for an even creepier tale to be told.
British filmmaker Brendan Cleaves has done just that, directing the first movie ever shot inside the historic tunnel that lays between King’s Cross and Islington in north London.
Dating back to 100 years, the tunnel is dark, damp and wreaks of things that should probably stay hidden between its brick-laid walls.
But of course, that would be no fun and so Brendan, along with screenwriter Cera Rose-Pickering, plonked four twenty-something characters at the centre of their story and sailed them through the haunting passageway.
‘It’s totally off the beaten track. If anything happens in there, there’s no one to rescue you,’ Brendan told Metro.co.uk of the tunnel.
The Tunnel isn’t for the faint-hearted (Picture: Brendan Cleaves)
Even the cast found the atmosphere of the Islington tunnel overwhelming (Picture: Brendan Cleaves)
No one can save you in the tunnel (Picture: Brendan Cleaves)
The Tunnel, a short film, follows four friends on a boat trip as they face a nightmarish battle for survival in a cursed tunnel.
When Alfie’s Uncle Baz goes missing, friends Jay, Chloe, Alfie and Megs are tasked with cruising his narrow boat back to London on a hot summer’s day. Jay sees this as an opportunity to create a unique film for a uni project, so he captures the trip on his video camera.
However, Baz’s boat was found abandoned on the canal, so Megs believes he’s the latest victim of Alderbrook Tunnel, a passageway rumoured to claim the life of anyone who lies within its walls. As the tunnel gruesomely reprimands the gang for their secrets, they realise the only way out is to own up to their lies – if the tunnel lets them.
It’s a cinematic milestone that came to Brendan, who used his creativity to bring this ambitious idea to life.
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The Tunnel is quite literally a project close to home for the filmmaker who actually lives on the very boat it was shot on.
‘The film was shot on a very low budget as well so everything is very practical, we had to think of the most efficient way of doing things,’ he told us.
‘From a filmmaking point of view, it was probably one of the hardest things I’ve worked on. It was shot in my house, we didn’t really have a crew because there was no space. Our director of photography was hiding behind the sofa for most of the film.’
Especially with its supernatural elements (Picture: Brendan Cleaves)
The characters were the best of friends and lovers – until their lies became unravelled (Picture: Brendan Cleaves)
The treacherous conditions of the tunnel took its toll on the crew (Picture: Brendan Cleaves)
Not to mention the cast and crew had to cope with the treacherous conditions of the tunnel’s spine-tingling atmosphere itself.
Brendan explained: ‘When you go in it, it’s spooky and damp and like a kilometre long.
‘It’s also totally off the beaten track, if anything happens in there there’s no one to rescue you. There’s no security.
‘It’s just about wide enough to get two narrow boats through but you’re also scraping the wall if you’re doing that so you have to make sure no one’s coming the other way. I navigated the tunnel for a few years quite regularly, and every time I went through, I thought “this is such a good location for a film”.
‘It has the history, it’s 100 years old, smack bang in the middle of London but you’d never know it’s there, it’s got so much value. I had this itch of wanting to do something around this tunnel.’
He continued: ‘It’s very creepy. Straight away you get hit by this smell, this really strong damp, eerie smell. You feel it. It’s almost like walking into a jungle – the temperature drops and the air gets thicker.
‘It was quite funny watching our actors go in there because straight away they were like, “this is horrible!”
‘No one’s coming to save you. If your boat breaks down in the tunnel, you’ve got to push against the wall to go. You’ve got to figure out how to get out. There’s no phone signal in there, not many boats go through.’
Cera added: ‘It was creepy for me as well having it written it, I had this idea of what it was like in my head, then when we were actually doing it, I was like, “oh my God I’m actually quite scared now.”’
The screenwriter loved the idea but wanted to make sure there was enough story to support Brendan’s vision.
‘Obviously I’m a storyteller so what are we trying to say? What are the points that are going to shock the audience,’ she recalled.
They did manage to have some fun behind-the-scenes (Picture: Brendan Cleaves)
Director Brendan Cleaves used his own boat home for the shoot (Picture: Brendan Cleaves)
‘We talked about how the tunnel could be evil feasibly and believable because we didn’t want it to be like, “Oh no, there’s a monster”. We gave it this supernatural element where it takes these people who are living a life of deceit and kills them as punishment for their wrongdoings.’
The location wasn’t the only challenge the crew faced as the found footage style of the film meant quite literally handing over control to the actors who filmed themselves with cameras. Luckily, ‘they pulled it off,’ said a relieved Cera.
The team created most of the stunts themselves which was ‘physically challenging’ but, as the project was self-financed, it was vital they found the most efficient ways to get results.
However, that’s what makes British horror so unique – it’s mostly independent compared to the big budgets of Hollywood.
Brendan was clear about why that is, stating: ‘We do low budget really well over here but that’s not because we particularly want to, that’s because we have to. We make the best of a s**t situation in the UK. I think that’s a very British thing to do is to just do the best of what you got.’
Spanning just 20 minutes long, The Tunnel is a perfectly bite-sized introduction into this new world and certainly provides enough landscape for the story to expand in the future.
Teasing the idea of a feature length version, Brendan said: ‘I think the short is enough to show someone that it potentially has legs for a longer form project. So that’s the hope. We’ve got some quite fun ideas of where we think it can go. I think that’s our next thing to do.’
Cera added with a coy smile: ‘Let’s expand the world of the tunnel, see what else is in there.’
The Tunnel stars Freddie Palmer, Harry Rose, Amelia Grace Pin, Ameerah Falzon, Johnny Vivash and Joe Holweger, and is set for release in 2025.
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