Directed by Steven C. Miller
Automaton Transfusion and The Aggression Scale director Steven C. Miller brings us an almost-kid-friendly love letter to 80s young ‘un horror/adventure with the confident, but ultimately disjointed, Under the Bed.
Jonny Weston stars as Neal, a troubled teenager returning home after a two-year hiatus with his aunt. Left traumatised after a fire at home which claimed the life of his mother, Neal vows to protect his younger sibling, Paulie (Griffith), from a malevolent entity the pair are convinced lives under Neal’s bed. As spooky happenings segue into outright monstrous assaults on the young duo, their attempts to protect themselves and their family begin to fray on the relationship between them, their beleaguered father (Holden) and his new partner (Vander).
In the tradition of many 80s kids-in-peril flicks, director Miller splits the world of children and adults in two, pitting the two generations at loggerheads as the audience attempts to work out whether what the youngsters are experiencing is indeed real or just childish fantasy. As Neal and Paulie, actors Weston and Griffith are excellent, demonstrating a palpable chemistry and genuine brotherly love that is effortlessly convincing and sympathetic. Almost just as good are the rest of the cast – Holden does as admirable a job as he can with sparse material, mostly involving shouting at his sons; meanwhile Vander, as stand-in mother Angela, delivers an authentically concerned turn as a woman just trying to do what’s best for her new wards.
Frequent monster attacks throughout Under the Bed are staged with a spooky, throwback vibe. Plenty of obtuse angles, blue lighting and even a “monster pretending to be dad” sequence are straight from the classic The Gate, and the sense of childish monster-battling mythology is alive and well (sleeping on the cabinets will keep you safe, but you’ll have to spend as little time on the floor as possible to get there). Unfortunately, the film’s internal logic is frequently creaky, with some serious plot leaps that become increasingly difficult to overlook or accept. What will be most polarising about the film, however, is where it eventually goes…
While the first two acts gradually reinforce the knowledge that there is indeed a monster in the house, the audience is left never really sure about that… until the film climaxes in an unexpected and gorily explosive manner. What, until that point, had been a rather low-key monster-kid family horror flick suddenly performs a back flip and launches head first into a shocking, pulse-pounding and viciously gruesome creature feature for the remaining 20-25 minutes. For a ravenous monster fan like yours truly, this was a pleasant surprise bolstered by some great man-in-a-suit creature effects and a wicked mean streak, not to mention a nice visit into the monster’s world that recalls a more ghetto version of throbbing sci-fi sets seen in fare like Invaders from Mars.
It’s a hell of a bold move, and one that threatened to rocket Under the Bed straight into position as one of the best monster movies of the year… until Miller decides to pull an ending so ridiculous, inexplicable and trite that it’s likely to cause fevered cursing at the screen. With some more care at the script stage, this could have been an instant classic. As it stands, though, Under the Bed is just too loosely put together to be truly great; and the tonal (and content) shift will likely leave many scratching their heads — but monster movie aficionados, especially those who grew up with the kind of fare which Miller’s film idolises, will eat it up.
3 1/2 out of 5