Director Carlo Ledesma’s subterranean spook-fest The Tunnel is an underground film in a literal sense — it is largely based in dilapidated tunnels and bunkers below metropolitan Sydney — and an above-the-ground film in a sense the local industry has never seen before.

The Tunnel’s unprecedented distribution strategy, in which it officially “opened” last week not in a cinema or a DVD shop but online and available for free to download from BitTorrent websites, could prove a game changer in an industry that has historically viewed online platforms in general and torrents in particular with fear and contempt.

Through what the makers of The Tunnel have dubbed “The $135k Project”, the small team behind this shmick faux doco are boldly attempting to turn the problem into the solution. Pushed along by executive producer Andrew Denton, audiences are encouraged to download and share the film and — if they like it — buy a frame or a set of frames to support it. Each frame costs $1.

A deal was brokered with BitTorrent, which agreed to display a prominent link to the film to all new members downloading torrent software, estimated to be about 450,000 a day. In the first five days of The Tunnel’s internet release it generated more than 75,000 downloads. Comparatively, the Australian film Snowtown opened on 16 screens across the country averaging three or four sessions a day. The difference, of course, is that people forked more than 20 bucks a pop to see it.

At the time of writing fewer than 40,000 of the target 135,000 frames for The Tunnel have been purchased, the vast majority bought before release. It will be a slow burn before it becomes clear whether the strategy has worked and production, distribution and marketing wings of industry giants will be looking on with interest.

But hoopla about snazzy new distribution techniques means next to nada if the end result is bum-numbing bunkum. Horror hooters and thrill seekers can rest assured that The Tunnel is the opposite — a visceral horror-umentary into sewers of cinematic spookiness that will infect even hardened genre aficionados with a serious case of the heebie-jeebies.

The film follows a team of four, led by investigative TV journalist Natasha Warner, who mount an unofficial exploration of abandoned tunnels underneath Sydney’s St James train station.

The NSW government unexpectedly scrapped plans to utilise the water in the tunnels and Warner wants to how why; her reputation as a journo hinges on it. There are urban myths floating around about something funny going on below — not in the water per se but in the dark decrepit arteries underneath the daily stream of commuters. The team finds and interviews a homeless man who says he’s lived there, and seen some things. It does not go smoothly. Not long after they begin exploring the tunnels and searching for a story, well, as the marketing materials say — the story comes to them.

Ledesma and co have created a rare and exciting feature, inside and out. It has the potential to become  a classic cult film and an industry game changer, and although during these uncertain days the producers may be going to bed at night sweating bullets, these are exciting times. Whichever way the pennies fall, whichever way the budget ledgers fill out, this much is for sure: The Tunnel is bold, gutsy and potentially ground-breaking.

The details: You can download The Tunnel via the official website.