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MINE 9: 3 STARS. “relies on primal fears over big special effects.”

“Mine 9” opens with a false alarm involving dangerous levels of methane at an Appalachian coal mine. The miners, rough-hewn workers who have spent their lives underground, debate whether or not to report the incident. Team boss Zeke (Terry Serpico) argues they have to let the bosses know what’s happening. The others point out that if the mine gets shut down, so do their pay cheques. It’s a startling beginning to a bare-bones story of survival and economics.

The action picks up again on eighteen-year-old Ryan’s (Drew Starkey) first day in the mine. His girlfriend doesn’t want him to go into the mine—“I don’t have time to sit in this town and wait for you.”—but he nonetheless follows in the footsteps of his miner father Kenny (Mark Ashworth) and Uncle Zeke into the depths, unaware of the threat of methane flare-ups.

Sure enough, a gas explosion collapses a section of the mine, trapping the nine-man crew. In cramped quarters, with little air and even less support from ground level the men fight to survive.

“Mine 9” is grim stuff. Director Eddie “Claustrophobia” Mensore does an effective job of recreating the inhospitable conditions facing the men, showcasing the West Virginian mine’s tight spots and low ceilings to produce a truly uncomfortable sense of unease in the viewer. It is harrowing stuff.

He’s less successful in presenting fully rounded characters. Zeke and crew are crusty, tough-as-nails clichés with few defining personalities outside of the basic character tropes grit, alcoholism or stoicism. Still, as roughly sketched as the men are, it’s impossible not to be drawn into the severity of the situation.

“Mine 9” makes the most of its low-budget, relying on primal fears over big special effects to generate a sense of unease. At a quick 83 minutes, ten of which are eaten up by credits and testimonials from real miners, it blends suspense with commentary on the dangerous environments the many miners face every day.

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