“Mine 9”, which is also known as “2 Miles Below”, is a small but effective genre piece to be admired for efficiency and verisimilitude. As firmly focusing on several characters suddenly stuck in a grim and perilous situation, the movie provides us a series of tense and realistic moments packed with grime and claustrophobia, and I admire how it skillfully and economically handles its story and characters before eventually arriving at the expected finale.
At the beginning, the movie promptly establishes its rural background with the palpable sense of history. After an old folk song about the hard life of coal miners is played on the soundtrack, it shows the grueling work condition of a bunch of Appalachian coal miners led by Zeke (Terry Serpico), and then we get to know how desperate they have been recently. They notice a clear sign of danger as they keep drilling at the bottom of their coal mine, and Zeke thinks they should notify this to safety regulators as soon as possible, but his co-workers including his brother Kenny (Mark Ashworth) do not want that at all because it is highly possible that those safety regulators will shut down their mine and then leave them unemployed. As one of them cynically says, they all would rather die to give their families some insurance money, instead of becoming unemployed without any hope or prospect.
Zeke agrees to his co-workers’ decision, but he remains quite concerned about the increasingly unstable condition of their mine. He later discusses this matter with their acting supervisor Teresa (Erin Elizabeth Burns), but she only reminds him that there is really nothing they can do at present. Because the coal yield of their mine has been decreasing, their company is not so eager to provide more safety measure, and Zeke eventually decides to make a call to a safety regulator without telling anyone.
On the next day, things look a little more optimistic for Zeke and his colleagues as they attend the birthday party for the young son of one of them, and they are joined by Ryan (Drew Starkey), a young rookie who is also Kenny’s son. As they and Ryan go down inside the mine, Ryan understandably becomes nervous, and, not so surprisingly, others tease him a bit for making him more relaxed and comfortable for his first day in the mine.
And we get to feel more of how dirty, difficult, and dangerous their mining job is. As constantly working in stuffy and narrow shafts, they always stoop or crawl whenever they have to move, and their clean faces are soon covered with grime and sweat. As watching their work process, you may wonder how their ancestors struggled to work without those mining machines and electronic equipments during those old days in the 19-20th century.
Unfortunately, Zeke’s worst fear turns out to be true when he and his colleagues drill deeper as before. When a substantial amount of methane is suddenly leaked, that quickly leads to a massive explosion, which instantly causes the collapse of the mine shafts and also results in the death of some of his colleagues. Although Zeke and a few other surviving members are more fortunate, they are trapped inside the mine now, and methane is still being leaked inside the mine while they are only left with one hour of oxygen for each of them.
Once she realizes what happens in the mine, Teresa hurriedly brings in the safety regulator Zeke previously called, but they cannot do anything at present because, as Zeke already pointed out to his surviving colleagues, they will not be allowed to send their rescue team into the mine immediately for safety reasons. Therefore, Zeke and his surviving colleagues must find any possible way to survive for themselves, though their chance for survival is being decreased second by second.
Steadily maintaining the level of suspense, the movie sticks close to its miner characters as they push themselves as much as they can, and director/writer/co-producer/co-editor Eddie Mensore and his crew members effectively deliver a number of intense moments packed with palpably gloomy atmosphere. While cinematographer Matthew Boyd did a commendable job of generating the constant claustrophobic mood around the miner characters in the film, composer Mauricio Yazigi’s subtly ambient score works well along with sound effects, and the overall aural effect immerses us more into the desperate circumstance in the story.
In terms of storytelling, the movie is lean and efficient without wasting any minute at all, though I would not mind at all if it went for more background and character details. Its main cast members are believable on the whole as filling their respective roles as demanded, and Terry Serpico diligently holds the center while supported well by his co-performers including Kevin Sizemore, Clint James, Erin Elizabeth Burns, and Drew Starkey.
Overall, “Mine 9”, which is Mensore’s second feature film after “The Deposition” (2012), did its job better than I expected, and I was particularly impressed by some genuine poignancy presented at the end of its story, which you have to behold for yourself in my inconsequential opinion. It is a shame that this solid low-budget film was quickly forgotten after quietly released in US early in last year, and I really think you should give it a chance someday.