Monday, 27 August 2012

The Monday Miscellany | The Tunnel, Books to Die For, Quantum Conundrum

There's been such a ghastly glut of found footage horror movies of late that it can come as no surprise when a high-quality contender slips through the cracks. That's exactly what The Tunnel is: a shockingly accomplished shoestring spookshow very much in the mode of Paranormal Activity. No prizes for guessing that it was met with an overwhelming meh upon its release, either.

That said, The Tunnel deserves better, particularly considering how little it cost to put together. It's an interesting story, actually. Back before Kickstarter kicked off, the mooted movie's producers went to the public for funding. Enzo Tedeschi and Julian Harvery aimed to sell individual frames of the final film for AUS$1 a pop, but for one reason or another - the aforementioned attitude surely had something to do with it - they only managed to raise a quarter of their budget.

They went ahead and made the thing anyway, for about £25k. Considering this, the result is simply stunning. That isn't to say The Tunnel is without its issues, foremost amongst them an over-reliance on interviews apparently conducted after the fact of the accident - interviews which spoil who survives from the first, in fact - but the performances are uniformly strong, the scares are certainly there, and in a found footage horror movie, these aspects are of paramount importance.

The plot, meanwhile, provides a plausible rationale for the form of the film: when a news and current affairs crew take to the flooded subway under Sydney to report on the homeless living therein, they find more than they had bargained for. They find... monsters! And of course they capture them on camera.

Imagine [rec] meets The Descent. Fancy seeing that? Then The Tunnel is for you.

Oh, and hey: you can download this film for free. Legally, even! 


Books to Die For is an odd beast of an anthology, but for what it is, which is almost impossible to quantify, it's brilliant — and beautiful to boot. Hodder & Stoughton's lovely hardcover, out on August 30th, contains a staggering array of essays in which "the world's leading mystery writers [...] come together to champion the greatest mystery novels ever written."

Co-edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke, Books to Die For is essentially an insider's guide to the genre, featuring a who's-who of its foremost proponents on their favourite mystery fiction, which ranges from ye olde right through to the postmodern, covering authors including Stephen King and Douglas Adams. Joe Lansdale recommends Raymond Chandler, Max Allan Collins goes to town Mickey Spillane, Kathy Reichs writes about Thomas Harris.

Meanwhile: Michael Connelly, Jeffrey Deaver, Charlaine Harris, Minette Walters, Karin Slaughter, Lee Child, Jo Nesbo, Dennis Lehane, Peter Robinson, Elmore Leonard, Eoin Colfer, Michael Koryta, Tana French. And know that this is just a fraction of the non-fiction on offer in this massively ambitious anthology. Books to Die For is in excess of 700 pages long, after all, of which the table of contents takes eight. It even comes complete with an index!

Admittedly, some of the contributors are more immediately engaging than others, but none of the essays in Books to Die For run long at all. This is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it means the dull ones are over in no time; a curse because you get the sense some writers are only just getting into their swing when the word count comes crashing down. I'd have given a lot for a little more leg room in that regard.

All told, though, if you're in the least interested in mystery fiction, Books to Die For really is a book to die for. Now then: can we have a speculative fiction edition next?


When I blogged about Portal co-creator Kim Swift's Quantum Conundrum a couple of days before its release on Steam, I wasn't exactly hot on it. I'm still not, but now that actually I've played the thing - from start to finish, because it's the summer, and what else am I going to do? Go outside? - I can speak to the actual experience rather than its lackluster launch trailer.

Then again, I wasn't far off the mark, worrying about Quantum Conundrum's tepid sense of humour. Six or so hours of paltry punchlines later, if I hear Q crack another crappy joke, I'm going to snap a Star Trek: The Next Generation DVD. Don't test me, I'll do it!

Luckily, the puzzles are markedly more engaging than nonsense narrative John de Lancie is saddled with, wherein his mad scientist talks your innocent nephew through a wacky mansion. In short: Professor Fitz Quadrangle is stuck in some strange dimension, full of belly button fluff and other such stuff. It's up to the player to help him escape by powering up generators in three discrete wings, each of which introduces a new dimension.

In the first, fluffy, you can use your magical glove to make the world light and white, thus enabling you to pick up heavy things - like safes - and deposit them on weighted platforms to progress. So far, so simple — and the heavy dimension fails to make things more interesting. But when you gain the power to slow time, and finally to reverse gravity, the puzzle-solving Quantum Conundrum hinges on does pick up.

The only thing hindering your progression through the game's forty-odd test chambers then is the platforming, which is so poorly implemented as to be practically perverse. Jumps are floaty, movement is imprecise, and guys: gravity's a bitch. This is a fundamental fuck-up when the majority of Quantum Conundrum's most promising moments rely on your ability to flit around rooms on top of fast-moving objects. As to that, at least the checkpoints aren't too terrible.

Don't get me wrong: solving the puzzles in Quantum Conundrum is actually a bunch of fun. The kicker is, implementing your answers is an absolute nightmare. Add to that an inane script, a slow start, an uninspired aesthetic, and some outright derivative design decisions... folks, I'm afraid the whole package feels second-rate. Give it a miss unless you're a fan of frustration.

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