Taking a cue from so many other films, the new Chinese creature feature The Labyrinth (环线, Ring Line) begins with a brief tease of a group of survivors of a subway disaster being menaced by hordes of centipedes before jumping back an hour to show us how they got there.
It seems the train had made an emergency stop at the edge of a giant sinkhole that appeared in the tunnel, leading one character to wonder aloud, “Why is there a hole here?”, The answer to that probably has something to do with the giant centipede we see crawling along the underside of the train. But the passengers are too busy dealing with a horde of regular-sized critters to notice it.
I probably don’t have to tell you that more of the tunnel collapses dropping the train and its occupants into a cavern or tunnel under the subway. And down there the regular-sized centipedes, despite their fondness for human flesh, will be the least of their problems.
Director Wang Zi, who is not the Taiwanese boy band member and occasional actor with the stage name Prince Chiu as more than one cut and paste site claims, gets The Labyrinth off to a start that’s less than promising. There are too many, slow cuts and dissolves between scenes. It’s meant to feel ominous, but comes off as pretentious as well as hurting the film’s pace.
Some terrible CGI and greenscreen shots of the train hanging over the abyss, and people falling to their deaths don’t help matters either. And a Cronenbergesque shot of then crawling under someone’s skin comes off as funny rather than frightening. The effects in these films seem to be very hit or miss, and The Labyrinth is full of misses.
Unfortunately, The Labyrinth only gets worse from there. Brother Dao (Chen Xiaochun, The Infernal Storm, Tank Boys) and Gao Fei (Peng Jingci, The Secret Order of the Phoenix, Special Biological Investigation Division) step up as leaders of the survivors and almost immediately find a huge vault. When the door won’t open they break it down. With that kind of strength, this bunch should have nothing to fear from the monsters.
Of course, the answer to what produced the giant centipedes is also behind that door. Unsurprisingly it turns out to be a secret Japanese facility dating back to World War II. They did experiments on humans and centipedes to create living bioweapons that got left behind. And in what seems like another swipe at non-Chinese cultures a cosplayer dressed as Wonder Woman meets an end that would never be inflicted on one outfitted as Mulan.
With its dark, claustrophobic setting and the effect even normal-sized centipedes have on many people, The Labyrinth should have been a fun creature feature. But the terrible effects and some obviously sped-up camerawork rob the film of much of its impact.
But even the best of effects can’t redeem a script that spends too much on watching the characters running around screaming. Or making sure they pause for the requisite jokes at the expense of the fat nerd who even gets to have a “funny” death scene. Or to put it another way, The Labyrinth is the Chinese equivalent of a Tubi Original movie. Cheaply put together from the genre’s worst elements.
Despite a running time of only an hour and nine minutes, The Labyrinth felt overly long and hard to sit through. Even the attractive actresses that usually provide a diversion in these films are lost in the dark setting. Even for free this isn’t worth it.