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STUDIO MPI HOME VIDEO
RUNNING TIME 1:29:19
• Commentary with Director Ben Ketai, Writers Patrick J. Doody and Chris Valenziano, and Producers Nick Philips and Kelly Martin Wagner
• Interviews with the cast and crew.
• From Script to Screen Writers’ Featurette
• Lessons from Below: Miner Education
• Featurette: Breaking News Reports
• Newsreel – ‘The 19’
What if they made The Descent, but without the all-female cast, the cave setting, or the cool monsters?
Jeff Fahey, Kelly Noonan, Joey Kern, Brent Briscoe, Mark L. Young, and Eric Etebari
On the day of her father’s (Jeff Fahey) retirement, environmentalist lawyer Samantha Marsh (Kelly Noonan) decides to go down into the mine he’s spent his life working to see up close the industry she’s trying to shut down. However, after the miners dig into a sealed chamber, the mine collapses, and father and daughter are trapped with both their fellow people and something… else.
This one I would’ve wanted to like: it’s an original horror movie with a somewhat unique premise, good production design, some research being done into the setting–best of all, it’s not a found footage movie, as was originally intended.
Sadly, I couldn’t stop thinking about The Descent while watching this, which this movie completely pales in comparison to. It’s the Amazing Spider-Man to that movie’s Sam Raimi joint. And it was released not even ten years after The Descent came out (even less time since The Descent 2 came out, but we don’t speak of that movie). But it lacks almost all the virtues of that movie.
The all-female cast of The Descent was interesting and new. Beneath just has an all-male cast with a Ripley/Sarah Connor type female lead. The Descent took place in caves that had never been explored, and were often claustrophobic, mysterious, and threatening. Beneath takes place in a mine, which is not only less visually interesting (the commentary hypes this up, but later in the movie they go to a different setting and it’s… an older mine. Who cares?), but it’s just not as scary as the cave system. Sure, a mine is a spookier place than, say, a Wal-Mart, but in comparison to the caverns of The Descent, it’s well-lit, there’s plenty of room to move around, and it’s familiar to most of the cast.
Most importantly, this movie fails on the antagonism front. In The Descent, we had the crawlers, who were just subterrean monsters that weren’t explained and didn’t need to be. Now, at first I thought that Beneath would be a response to the critics who said that The Descent was scary enough without the monsters, and it would just be a survivial thriller about people trying to stay alive in a collapsed mine.
Instead, we get a ghost story, with the specters of dead miners from the twenties possessing people and saying boo and whatnot. The worst kind of ghosts: they’re undead and they believe in Prohibition. They’re unbelievably boring in comparison to The Descent‘s crawlers. Worse, there’s seemingly no logic or rules to them. The crawlers put you in their mouth and move their teeth, they’ve eaten you, you’re dead. The ghosts here don’t seem to be trying to achieve any objection or redress any unfinished business, like the spooks would in most stories. Their powers are inconsistent: they can possess people, but then they’ll unpossess people, and also they can make people see things?
I know most ghost stories play fast and loose with the rulebook because they’re dealing with the supernatural, but that’s only acceptable in service of some good scares or unique visuals. It’s one thing to say “anything goes!” and have blood shoot out in geysers from the wall; it’s another thing to say “anything goes!” and have the heroine turn around and see a zombie making a scary face, because ghosts in movies like making scary faces at people.
This movie wants to have things just happen because they’re scary for the moment. Would it be scary if a miner were possessed and attacked the others? Okay, that happens. Would it be scary if the protagonist were going crazy and jumping at shadows? Okay, that happens. It’s like if in a Nightmare on Elm Street movie, Freddy Krueger started showing up when people were awake and going BLARGH, or if the shark in Jaws put Chief Brody in a death-trap so we could get some torture porn scares.
All this is done I think in service of an intended ambiguity or twist ending that is much lauded on the commentary, but just feels indecisive to me. Alright, so are there no ghosts, and everyone’s just hallucinating from the lack of air? Then why are they all hallucinating the same thing? Why are people who are irrational from oxygen deprivation doing stuff like humming creepily and doing scary poses? Are they hallucinating that they’re in a horror movie and need to act like Michael Myers?
The Descent wasn’t even trying to ask “is this real or isn’t it?” in as thuddingly obvious a manner as Beneath, but it still made it more plausible that its heroine could snap, with the backstory provided her and the arc her character goes through. I don’t buy that Beneath’s female lead, a seemingly mature, responsible adult with no mental trauma, could just go crazy and kill everyone from being trapped, safely, in a mine for a couple hours with a bunch of her friends.
To sum up: on the commentary, one of the producers mentions rewriting the script so that story beats happened on precise page numbers. So page 15 this has to be introduced, page 20 this has to happen, etc, etc, Save The Cat. That strikes me as exactly the kind of movie this is. A safe, paint-by-numbers version of Neil Marshall’s masterpiece. Oh, and it’s about as inspired by true events as Scientology, so…
A simple case, with a somewhat boring cover image and an odd blurb on the front comparing this movie to Gravity. Also, a review blurb on the back from an AICN reviewer named Ambush Bug, so let’s all regret nerds winning the culture wars.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars