‘At the End of the Tunnel’ (‘Al Final del Tunel’): Film Review

Courtesy of Latido Films
A polished, sweaty tale from under the floorboards.

Leonardo Sbaraglia stars in Rodrigo Grande’s ‘Rear Window’ homage about a robbery, a man and his wheelchair.

Featuring a fine turn from a wheelchair-bound Leonardo Sbaraglia and a satisfyingly twisting tunnel of a story, At the End of the Tunnel, Argentinian Rodrigo Grande’s follow-up to his award-winning A Matter of Principle, is skillfully handled suspense fare. Despite a few zig-zags too many and a couple of stylistic false notes, the movie finally feels as sweaty, claustrophobic and nervous as the title implies, staying on just the right side of excess. The kind of film that forces the viewer to suspend disbelief in exchange for a good dose of adrenaline, Tunnel’s tight focus on crowd-pleasing strategies suggests that it could see the light beyond the Spanish-language territories which are its natural home.

Joaquin (Sbaraglia) lives alone, in a wheelchair and in grumpy melancholy, following the deaths of his wife and child. At around the same time as Joaquin is using his tech wizardry to figure out that a tunnel is being dug under his home with the aim of robbing the bank next door, stripper Berta (Clara Lago, from Spain’s massive 2015 smash Spanish Affair) turns up with her mute daughter and asks for a room upstairs, which Joaquin reluctantly agrees to. Not a second is wasted getting all this into place.

Via a mike and a camera, Joaquin is able to observe and listen to — in perhaps implausibly high quality — the robbery plans of a gang led by the sadistic psychopath Galetero (Pablo Echarri). For reasons that for too long aren’t too clear, Joaquin decides that he wants part of the proceeds for himself (and perhaps for Berta: naturally he’s seeking redemption). It’s giving nothing away to reveal that Berta turns out to be Galetero’s lover: In terms of revelations, that’s just the start.

Implicitly, Tunnel is very much of its time in that it deals with surveillance as power: As long as he’s behind a camera, Joaquin can have nothing to fear from Galetero. But such abstractions were presumably far from Grande’s mind, and his main interest is in making the viewer sweat. That he does so, with great efficiency, is due not only to the multiple twists but to Sbaraglia’s performance, which must count as one of the most physical performances from someone in a wheelchair since the last Paralympics — a startling full-body performance from half a body. The other standout is Echarri: and despite the fact that his sadism is apparently limitless, which weakens Galetero’s dramatic impact somewhat, rarely can the muttered line “bring the blanket” have been charged with so much menace.

The script is pretty good about dealing with viewers’ plausibility protests, but several remain. Galetero isn’t stupid, and certainly not stupid enough not to check the walls for small holes with mini-cameras in them — and that’s not the only occasion on which Galetero’s suspicions would reasonably be aroused. Also, Grande feels the need, soon after Berta’s arrival, to insert a dance sequence which looks like a weird homage to the 9 ½ Weeks video for Joe Cocker’s 'You Can Leave Your Hat On', except with even worse music — it’s slick enough as a stand-alone, and is a good showpiece for the editing team’s considerable skills, but it’s entirely unnecessary, and indeed on the wrong side of excess.

Argentinian vet Federico Luppi is always worth the price of a ticket (both he and Echarri featured in Principle), but here both actor and his part of the plotline feel tacked on, with the script not-too-successfully seeking to add one further twist at the end. Technically, it’s all very strong, with the camera interestingly, if showily, tremendously busy in both the above- and below-ground sequences, whilst the contrast between light and shade is appropriately teased out at every turn.

Production companies: Haddock Films, Telefe, Tornasol Films, Arbol Contenidos
Cast: Leonardo Sbaraglia, Pablo Echarri, Clara Lago, Javier Godino, Federico Luppi
Director-screenwriter: Rodrigo Grande
Producers: Mariela Besuievsky, Pablo Echarri, Gerardo Herrero, Axel Kuschevatzky, Vanessa Ragone, Martín Seefeld
Executive producers: Jimena Blanco, Julia Di Veroli, Javier Lopez Blanco
Director of photography: Felix Monti
Production designer: Mariela Ripodas
Costume designer: Valentina Bari
Editors: Leire Alonso, Manuel Bauer, Irene Blecua
Composer: Lucio Godoy, Federico Jusid
Casting director: María Laura Berch
Sales: Latido Films

Not rated, 120 minutes