Here’s a jewel, hidden in your Netflix menu and well worth digging out.
“Mine 9” is everything you want an indie thriller to be — topical, regional, well-acted and harrowing as all get out. It may be yet another “disaster down below” genre picture, but the tragic tone, the sense of place and the dirty-fingernails reality of the players puts it over.
Writer-director Eddie Mensore takes deep into West Virginia coal country, a struggling older mine where generations of a town have dug deep and “put food on the table.”
It’s what keeps the dying town open for business, what buys groceries or “liver dogs” at the only diner left. And as an establishing scene shows us, it pays for birthday presents for a little boy, even though there’s sure to be at least one bitter widow in every gathering like this.
Zeke (Terry Serpico of TV’s “Yellowstone”) leads a crew that includes his brother Kenny (Mark Ashworth) and seven others. They’re all hardened professionals that see the dangers of overwhelmed pumps, iffy wiring and a groaning mountain above them.
Shift supervisor Teresa (Erin Elizabeth Burns) has an idea of the added risks. There’s no rescue team set up at this mine. Anything goes wrong, they’re on their own, and she still expects “your whole crew” to show up.
Zeke wants to call in Mining Health and Safety, his crew votes against it. They know “shut down” will be the verdict, and then what’ll they do?
“I ain’t blowed up or drowned in 15 years!”
John (Clint James) is prone to prayer. Kenny has a hard time showing up sober. And now he’s strong-armed his son Ryan (Drew Starkey) into taking up the tradition –“almost 200 years, our family’s been underground.”
Ryan will be our surrogate, the fellow the other miners explain the ropes, gear, “escape routes” and procedures to on his first night “underground.”
Writer-director Mensore immerses his movie and us in the whirl of activities carried out by men stooped over thousands of feet below the surface. Grinding diggers kick up clouds of dust and sparks as they chew into a seam. Sump pumps are serviced, ceiling braces and joists set up and when methane gas vents from a seam, fireproof curtains are hastily hung to keep the blaze from reaching them.
The inevitable Big Accident happens. Some men are killed, some survive and the survivors allow themselves mere seconds to show how upset they are. Then they get organized and follow the plan like the professionals that they are.
Even in the cramped, dimly-lit and smokey tunnel, the performers make vivid impressions. The awful choices facing them are reflected in the face of the guilt-ridden but “follow MSHA protocols” supervisor (Burns) on the surface.
Mensore folds in keening Appalachian folk music laments into the tableaux — the songs the men and women here on local radio, the songs they sing, the lore of their profession.
Surprises may be few and far between, with every confrontation and dramatic moment preordained. But “Mine 9” delivers suspense and pathos, geology and geography, and a spot-on cast puts faces and lives behind iconic “types,” and make this one of the most Netflixable films the streaming service offers.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, violence, alcohol abuse, profanity
Cast: Terry Serpico, Mark Ashworth, Kevin Sizemore, Clint James, Drew Starkey, Erin Elizabeth Burns
Credits: Written and directed by Eddie Mensore. An Alliance/Netflix release.
Running time: 1:23