Beneath (2013) – Film Review

Directed by Larry Fessenden (Habit, Wendigo, Depraved) and distributed by the horror-centric production company, Chiller Films, a now-defunct television network responsible for many low-budget supernatural horrors including ‘Siren,’ ‘Animal’ and ‘Dead Souls.’ ‘Beneath,’ released in 2013, may have sounded like an estimable idea during its conception, being pitched as a minimalist creature-feature that explores the direful outcomes of human behaviour under the influence of extreme isolation and fear. But as a result of its overemphatic performances, mindless screenplay and frequently mishandled visuals, whatever little tension and intrigue ‘Beneath’ manages to build-up is completely capsized by the time the end credits roll.

Plot Summary: Following their high-school graduation, a group of friends decide to spend one last summer outing together at ‘Black Lake’ before going their separate ways. But when their rowboat is struck by an amphibious creature, subsequently killing a member of the group and destroying their oars, the five remaining friends find themselves trapped in the middle of the reservoir, contemplating whether one of them should be thrown overboard as a distraction…

While the original screenplay for the film had flashbacks which further developed the characters and explored their individual journeys throughout high-school, Fessenden ultimately decided to remove them. This allowed the entire film to be shot in a mere eighteen days, which certainly shows, as ‘Beneath’ is a largely dull affair, following the usual formula for a creature-feature outside of one or two subversive moments. Given Fessenden’s past work, it would also make sense that the film could go so far as to suggest that the creature in the lake doesn’t actually exist, and is, in reality, just a physical manifestation of the characters’ ulterior motives. Yet regrettably, this is not the case, and ‘Beneath’ opts to play things relatively straight, with the characters being devoured one-by-one in equally idiotic ways.

On a similar note, the title of the film doesn’t just refer to what lurks in the tranquil water, but is also a guide to where ‘Beneath’s substance lies. With the film’s unbearable roster of characters, compromising of: ‘Johnny,’ a brooding, long-haired loner, ‘Kitty,’ the rotating object of desire for practically every male character in the film, ‘Matt,’ the golden-boy jock whose prospects seem to be going downhill since graduating, his younger, less athletic but more intelligent brother: ‘Simon,’ along with ‘Kitty’s best friend: ‘Deb,’ and the hyperactive filmmaker: ‘Zeke,’ each having a respective outburst as simmering high-school grudges, rivalries and romantic betrayals factor into the survival stakes. But as a result of the exceptionally awful dialogue, the prospect of any tension within the story soon becomes virtually non-existent, even with the cast of Daniel Zovatto, Bonnie Dennison, Chris Conroy, Jon Orsini, Mackenzie Rosman and Griffin Newman having their brief moments of promise in a film brimming with atrocious performances. Moreover, the friendship between the characters feels so unnatural from the outset considering their vastly different backgrounds and personalities.

Cinematographer Gordon Arkenberg tries his best at keeping the solitary setting of a stranded rowboat visually interesting, which beyond some oddly framed shots and sequences that can only be described as ‘visual disarray,’ is a goal he somewhat succeeds in, particularly whenever the camera is pointed towards the beautiful scenery, where the stillness of the lake accentuates the ominous threat of the creature prowling just beneath its surface. Nevertheless, these shots are soon defaced by harsh shadows and a bleached colour palette due to the whole film being shot using natural light. Judging by the editing, you would also be forgiven for thinking that ‘Black Lake’ is the largest lake in America, as the characters spend hours upon hours rowing with their broken oars (and eventually hands) only to make zero progress in a poor attempt of elongating the runtime.

Even though there is next-to-no focus placed on the original score by Will Bates, the score for: ‘Beneath’ is competent if very forgettable, making a fair effort to enhance the supposed tension on-screen. Except for the track: ‘Last Stand’ that is, which sounds as if it’s from another soundtrack entirely, mimicking the score from a light-hearted romantic-comedy more than anything else.

As for the film’s main feature; the creature itself closely resembles the appearance of a giant anglerfish. And whilst I can respect this decision given the anglerfish is one of the most naturally frighting animals on the planet, this choice also displays a great deal of laziness on behalf of the filmmakers, as taking what is already an intimidating-looking animal and simply enlarging it is a rather indolent approach to designing your marketable monstrosity. Having said that, the combination of puppetry and animatronics that bring the creature to life are impressive despite their limited range of movements.

All in all, while some may get an ironic laugh out of this ninety-minute trainwreck, I feel most will agree that ‘Beneath’ is above all else just a frustrating experience, with one of the film’s only positives being its commendable reliance on practical effects over CGI. But truthfully, the effects alone don’t even come close to rectifying what are the film’s many, many other shortcomings, distinguishing ‘Beneath’ from other films within the genre solely on how moronic and tiresome of a horror/thriller it is, paling in comparison to Fessenden’s other low-budget efforts. Final Rating: low 2/10.

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