Winner of the Grand Prize at the 2019 Arizona International Film Festival a year ago, writer-director Eddie Mensore’s Mine 9 finally gets its wide release this week (thank you, Netflix!) Following in the footsteps of 2015’s The 33 (about the 2010 real-life Chilean Mine collapse), Mensore’s utterly captivating and terrifying film isn’t based on any particular true event in the world of mining but is instead inspired by truths about the controversial industry in general. Mensore wisely avoids picking sides or having an agenda, however, and instead tells a simple story very, very well—to the point that it feels infinitely (and ironically) more real than The 33, which couldn’t escape the distinct sense of Hollywood-ized history.
As low-budget and Indie as they come, Mine 9 doesn’t have any recognizable faces, save (perhaps) for character actor Terry Serpico—whom you might have seen on Army Wives or Designated Survivor—as Zeke, the de facto leader of a small band of miners at an unnamed Appalachian mine on its last legs. Terrified of a visit from MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration), since their foreman is sick and there’s no rescue team to speak of, the team is clearly sitting on a ticking time bomb. And though Zeke wants to pull the plug, the rest of the men vote to keep at it (in one instance where democracy clearly isn’t the prudent path). If they die, they rationalize, their family will get the insurance money, but if the mine closes, they won’t be able to pay the bills, and that’s worse.
Sure enough, their next trip two miles down is one too many. A short circuit causes a spark that ignites a methane fireball, and before the men can blink, the roof has caved in, killing several, sealing off escape passages, and cutting communication with the surface. The pocket respirators the miners carry only supply an hour of oxygen, and that’s assuming they’re not already choking to death on the smoke and dust from the explosion (which they are).
Mine 9 is the ultimate story of survival, and Mensore absolutely nails it. His shoulder-shot, in-your-face style (courtesy of cinematographer Matthew Boyd) puts the audience right in the heat of battle, trapped in a suffocating, muddy, and paralyzing disaster. Not for the faint of heart (claustrophobes and the squeamish are welcome to mosey on by), Mine 9 may be one of the more terrifying movies of the year, and that’s without a single jump scare or boogeyman to be found.
This is the pure terror of real life (or what could be real, anyway), and Mensore doesn’t pull a single punch while putting us right in the thick of it. His script rings true and is exquisitely efficient, and the film is, too (it clocks in at just under an hour and a half, and that’s including a full ten minutes of end credits). Mensore truly does more with barely an hour than many filmmakers have done with twice that much.
Mine 9 is a haunting film that plunges you deep into hell and then leaves you gasping for air as you scrape and claw to get out again. What The Perfect Storm did for fishermen (and drowning), Mensore’s film does for miners. It’s as excellent as it is harrowing and is worth every single one of its 83 minutes.