July 23, 2013

Beneath (2013)

"Six high school seniors celebrating with day's excursion find themselves on rowboat attacked by man-eating fish and must decide who must be sacrificed as they fight their way back to shore."

As much as I would like to write "Beneath" off as nothing but a load of bickering teenagers who you've never heard of (plus Mark Margolis in a creepy cameo) being menaced by a more evil version of the big fish from "The Singing Ringing Tree" (1957), I really can't. For what it is, which is another highly sanitised Chiller TV movie, "Beneath" is far more entertaining than most of the sources it homages, but not in a good way.

Essentially, what director Larry Fessenden has done is rip-off the only good segment of "Creepshow 2", throw in a healthy dollop of "Lifeboat" (or "Lifepod"), and then stir-it all up with some pop culture references, a little bit of social commentary, and even some trendy GoPro camera product placement. All this without any nudity or swearing too! The guy is clearly a genius! Or not, as the case may be.

The biggest problem, other than the ridiculously ginormous piranha-style fish, is that the script isn't very good. The characters are so poorly written that even though you can see that everyone is trying their hardest to act and take it all seriously, there's nothing much for anyone to work with. As a result, there's not one likeable character, and the story becomes little more than a "slasher in water" as you just wait and hope for each annoying idiot to meet his or her demise.

All of them are toast fish food.

The great thing about "Beneath" is that it isn't a comedy. Of course the giant fish is one of the most poorly realised practical creature effects in any movie about giant fish since "Jaws", but as the story progresses, it becomes easier to accept its existence than to believe that the teenagers are really teenagers or were ever friends with each other. Their reactions are more wooden than the bored hosts who used to take the boats of tourists round the "Jaws" ride at Universal Studios, which, alas, is no longer a future employment option for anyone involved in this production.

The gore is surprisingly good for a hypocritical American TV movie with various cuts, bites, slashes, and dismembered limbs oozing blood all over the place. It's not to the same standard as "Piranha 3D", but "Beneath" obviously didn't have the same $24,000,000 budget to play with. I'd be amazed if this movie had even a third of the $1,000,000 budget that The Asylum sets as a maximum for each of their mockbusters.

As with every low-budget abomination nowadays, the camerawork isn't exactly brilliant, and the oh-so-important GoPro inserts make things look even worse. If you can get past that, there's barely any tension in the teenagers' predicament either. There is some, but it's mostly ruined by the stupidity of their childish behaviour. A different director might have got a better balance, but it is what it is. I've got a feeling that Larry Fessenden knew exactly what he was doing. I just can't prove it.

If you're a grumpy old misanthropist like me who is always on the look-out for something else to hate about people, "Beneath" has a lot to say about smartasses, snarkiness, white knighting, entitlement issues, relationships, cliques, and, basically, how disgustingly selfish today's teenagers are. It's almost as good as reading through the online dramas on horror message boards! The only difference is that everyone gets what they deserve this time! And it's glorious! Absolutely glorious!

"Das singende, klingende Bäumchen" has a lot to answer for!

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