Producers: John Einar Hagen and Einar Loftesnes   Director: Pål Øie   Screenplay: Kjersti Helen Rasmussen   Cast: Thorbjørn Harr, Yiva Lyng Fuglerud, Lisa Carlehed, Ingvild Holthe Bygdnes, Mikkel Bratt Silset, Per Egil Aske, Jan Gunnar Røise, Peter Førde and Silje Breivik   Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films 

Grade: C

The snowy Norwegian locations, nicely shot by cinematographer Sjur Aarthun, are the best element of Pål Øie’s curiously humdrum disaster film about an accident in a mountain highway tunnel that traffics in clichés and coincidences more than excitement.

The hero of the piece is Stein (Thorbjørn Harr), a big, bearded fellow who’s part of the team that plows the roads and can be called into service in emergency situations.  He’s a widower extremely protective of his daughter Elise (Yiva Lyng Fuglerud), who—luckily, as it turns out, is a swimmer practicing holding her breath underwater.  Elise is, however, none too pleased that her father is involved with local waitress Ingrid (Lisa Carlehed).

Stein travels the roads alongside his squad colleague, the younger, more headstrong Ivar (Mikkel Bratt Silset), whose father (Per Egil Aske) is the mayor.  It’s just before Christmas, and the roads are icy.  That doesn’t stop people from speeding, anxious to make it to a holiday festival in town.  Nor does it stop long-haul truckers, who are piloting their huge rigs with flammable loads in a caravan toward—you guessed it—that tunnel through the mountain.  Also headed toward it is a bus carrying Elise, who’s gotten into a row with Stein over Ingrid, and her newfound friends.

Miles inside the tunnel, one of the big rigs careens into the wall (driver’s fault), screeches to a halt, blocking traffic, and eventually explodes.  The tunnel fills with toxic smoke even as cars continue to try to get by even though Andrea (Ingvild Holthe Bygdnes), the wheelchair-bound traffic controller watching things unfold as best she can via monitors, closes the tunnel down and calls for help.

Naturally Stein and his team respond, and his concern for Elise compels him to go into the inferno despite Christian’s reluctance to allow a rescue operation, preferring to wait for experts to arrive.  Meanwhile Elise takes charge, leading some fellow passengers to a relatively safe compartment, and Andrea becomes concerned about two young girls who’ve been separated from their increasingly hysterical mother.  And Ivar struggles with his own fears, and against his father’s insistence that he not put himself at unnecessary risk. 

“The Tunnel” is expertly made from a technical perspective, with breathtaking location work from Aarthun, who doubles as editor (in which capacity he’s less successful), and a fine production design by Ida Bjerch Andresen, Mette Haukeland and Kristine Wilhelmsen.  Harr makes a stalwart, stoic hero, and the rest of the cast is more than adequate, though Silset does tend to overdo.   And the score by Martin Todsharow and Lars Lohn adds a much-needed sense of dread.

But as much as one can appreciate a disaster picture that emphasizes character over empty spectacle, “The Tunnel” deals to such an extent in cliché, especially involving parents and children, that it veers more and more into soap opera territory.  In the last act, moreover, Kjersti Helen Rasmussen’s script piles climax upon climax, as if she and Øie, whose direction occasionally goes slack, felt unable to choose a sufficiently powerful close from the various options at their disposal.

That’s not to say the film won’t hold your interest, but given the potential it comes off a mite wan and pallid.