Samurais are cool, right? And zombies are also pretty cool and kinda popular right now. But what about zombie samurai warriors? That would, logically, be amazingly cool, wouldn’t it? Well, maybe if they were in any other movie besides Dead Mine, a lethargic, generic action film that wastes the genuinely intriguing mystery of Yamashita’s Gold.
General Yamashita was Japanese commander in WWII, who supposedly buried a cache of stolen war loot somewhere in the Philippines. It’s been the subject of numerous novels, films, even an actual treasure quest, but as the catalyst for a survival horror this is new territory, which is why it’s so disappointing that writer/director Steven Sheil couldn’t do more with it.
Right off the bat you’ll probably notice the name Joe Taslim as one of the film’s stars. A stand out in the awesome Indonesian fight flick The Raid: Redemption, as well as a villain in Fast & Furious 6, Taslim is plastered all over the DVD case for obvious. His mere presence suggests bone-breaking, free-wheeling action, but Taslim is unfortunately a background character at best, stuck peering behind the sights of a machine gun. He plays one of a group of soldiers/mercenaries hired by an entitled rich guy to accompany him on a mysterious mission to explore an abandoned mine in Indonesia. They’re accompanied by his golddigger girlfriend, an engineer and former soldier named Stanley (Sam Hazeldine), and Rie (Miki Mizuno), a researcher with her own share of secrets. Forced deeper into the mine after a random pirate attack, they learn that gold may not have been the only thing Yamashita left behind.
Echoing 2005’s excellent, and genuinely scary, cave-dwelling horror The Descent, it isn’t long before the group comes under attack by weird, mutated humanoids in prisoner masks. Secrets begin to spill out as clues are found suggesting the mine was the site of radical experiments to create a form of super-soldier, who have now taken on the guise of samurai warriors just waiting for their next victims. The production values are surprisingly strong, and the undead samurai make for a striking image. When an army of the indestructible warriors comes marching through a narrow hallway, katana blades at the ready, one can’t help but get a chill. It’s just unfortunate that so little happens before they finally emerge from their hiding place.
For a solid hour practically nothing happens as the explorers stand around and bicker over their predicament. It would be interesting if any of the characters had a personality to speak of. Stanley is ostensibly the hero of the piece, as a guy who was hoping to put his violent ways behind him, but he’s a thinly-painted overly masculine archetype, and Sam Hazeldine isn’t a talented enough actor to make him believable. Taslim gets one extremely brief moment to shine, but those hoping to see him crack a few skulls will be disappointed. As the first feature film from HBO Asia, the film looks good and has some strong gory elements. Sheil smartly hides many of the budgetary limitations behind a veil of darkness, but the make-up work on some of Yamashita’s survivors is terrible, bordering on comical.
Dead Mine is terribly slow for far too long, and even though the pace picks up in the final twenty minutes, it’s not enough to warrant anything more than a rental.