Under the Mountain is a bizarre and magical mishmash of psychic-twin mumbo jumbo, Harry Potter mysticism, 80s zombie movie, alien invasion and immortality. And, it's a kids' movie.
The story, based on a bestselling novel from the 70s, is about redheaded tween twins Theo (Tom Cameron) and Rachel (Sophie McBride) who, after the death of their mother, are sent by their distraught father to live with an aunt and uncle in Auckland. In spite of strange and unusual surroundings, certain things begin to stand out as over and above the usual new-place weirdness — such as the putrefied corpses with tentacle fingers they spy wandering around the decaying old house across Lake Pupuke. That'll get your attention!
Once the danger is identified, salvation comes from under the mountain in the form of the unusually long-lived Mr. Jones (Sam Neil). Jones sees a well-spring of evil-defeating "twinness" in Theo and Rachel, and sets about teaching them to use that power to defeat the alien/octopus/baddies known as the Wilberforce (and… I think… they are the protectors of an even more evil race called the Gargantua). In so doing, Peter Jackson's Weta Workshop gets to show off its special effects skills. Those skills are considerable, but there is a routine, paint-by-numbers feel to even scenes that are supposed to be stirring and suspenseful.
Unfortunately, there's also a humdrum feel to dialogue and plot machinations as well. The acting is above-average and the direction (by Jonathan King, who also did Black Sheep, an outrageous animals-behaving-badly horror) is fine. But there's just no spark. I am aware I'm not in the demographic for this movie; but I think even if I were a kid, I would still find Under the Mountain a bit tedious.
But if I thought that was tedious — I definitely should not have tuned in to the behind the scenes featurette. It consists largely of the misadventures of a young actor learning how to drive a car, and the camera crew running around endlessly in rain and muck.
Overall, Under the Mountain is just OK. It's not terrible (and Sam Neill is always welcome), but there are better kids' sci-fi movies out there.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson