Mine Games is like the strange bastard offspring of The Ruins and Donnie Darko (with a dash of The Butterfly Effect thrown in). Trying desperately to be a great "timelines aren't linear BUT circular" movie (like Twelve Monkeys or Timecrimes), Mine Games just ends up feeling amateurish and half-baked.
On paper, there's something really compelling about this movie - being stuck an in infinite loop is a great story line. There's a great opportunity for the characters and the audience to uncover bits of the mystery as the story cycles infinitely around. There's great potential to explore the nature of personality, to question "fate", and to discuss how making small changes in the world can have SIGNIFICANT repercussions.
This concept can get really interesting when you look at all of the possible branches: the characters can be completely doomed to repeat their exact actions forever or they can make changes as they become aware of the situation. If they make changes, are they changes for good? How will they know? What if all of the characters need to make the same change in order to break the cycle? What if they each need to make different ones? This philosophical contemplation can go on and on forever.
They did do a nice job of littering the pieces of the mystery throughout the movie. You'll be happy to hear that they do connect the pieces together in the end to fully articulate the loop. Unfortunately, they fall into that American horror movie trap of over explaining things; I'm not an idiot, guys. I've watched a lot of movies and I can figure shit out on my own. But thanks...
The thing that really broke the whole movie for me was the new-age-hippy-psychic girl who claims she can talk to spirits and then actually sees her living friends in their dead, decaying states. It's almost American Werewolfian in nature. It was also completely distracting for me; I could have bought into the scifi-esque plot of an endlessly looping timeline had they not tried to throw ghosts at me, too. It's really just too much fantasy in my scifi to be enjoyable. Really, I consider this a missed opportunity by an inexperienced or uncreative writer. They could have accomplished the same plot trajectory by "unsticking" her in time; were she somehow "outside the time loop," she could be privy to the knowledge of what awaited her friends further around the circle. This would have kept the thematic material more consistent and made the movie stronger overall.
On the other side of this coin, the atmosphere of the movie is very haunted house-ish which does actually work. That piece is a nice juxtaposition with the scifi plotline. Looking at the movie through this lens, there is something interesting in the way they present the elements of a haunting, traditional "ghosts" are actually "echoes" of the characters' own past actions. The feeling that "something is lingering" is definitely creepy and is emphasised by some really great cinematography. The way Mine Games handles "echoes from the past" and "a descent into madness" really reminded me of YellowBrickRoad. They may actually become the next pair of movies I can't tell apart.
The other big distractors for me were the sets and locations. The abandoned mine is incredibly clean for an ancient (or even, really old) place. It's all too obviously shot in some touristy location like Howe Caverns or Seneca Caverns. I had a hard time believing there wasn't a group of 30 school kids hanging out just around the next corner learning the difference between stalagmites and stalactites. Which, by the way, if you've ever been to one of those touristy caves, they will tell you is that stalactites hold tight to the ceiling and stalagmites might reach reach the ceiling. Thanks, science.
Time for the wrap up, folks.
I'll say this, there was a lot of potential in Mine Games that just never got realized. Perhaps, 20 years from now, someone will get the itch to remake it and we'll get a masterpiece of cinema. And pigs? Well, they'll all have wings by then.
Watch this one if you need a fix of dumb kids having a really, really bad vacation.
If you'd like to seek a second opinion, you can read the review of Mine Games on Bloody Disgusting. Spoiler alert: the diagnosis is the same. Looks like I'm not the only cranky movie reviewer out there.
You can watch the Mine Game's trailer here: