Directed by Steven C. Miller
Distributed by XLrator Media
It’s the greatest fear children have: a scary beastie lurking just underneath their bed, ready to kill them once they’ve shut their weary eyes.
Another fear, almost as horrible, might be that nobody – especially grown-ups – will believe them. It’s these fears that have driven a number of kid-friendly creature features, be they G-rated or edgier PG-13s, and speak not only to the youngsters who currently exhibit these concerns, but to the child in every adult who can still remember what it felt like to be so helplessly uncertain about what might lurk just beneath their slumbering forms.
The newest addition to this subgenre is Under the Bed, a needlessly R-rated shocker from the director of the terrible Automaton Transfusion and the far better The Aggression Scale and Silent Night. And, while the movie isn’t very successful, it’s not completely without its charms.
The film opens with Neal Hausman (Weston), a teenager, just returning from an extended stay at a relative’s house in the wake of a family tragedy Neal himself is responsible for. He is welcomed home by his exasperated father, Terry (Holden), his younger brother, Paulie (Griffith), and his new stepmother, Angela (Vander), who has taken his mother’s place since her untimely death in the fire that Neal had set to their home. It seems that, all those years ago, Neal was plagued by visitations from an icky monstrosity he claimed lived under his bed. Years later, Neal finds that the monster has since taken an interest in Paulie. The two brothers claim to see the same visions but have no proof and are never able to get an adult to believe anything other than the possibility that the two siblings are sharing hallucinations and possibly even madness. With no one else to believe them, Neal and Paulie must band together to understand the nature of what awaits them each night and discover how they might possibly defeat it.
It’s a fun, if well-worn concept that director Steven C. Miller is playing with here, from a script by Eric Stolze (not Eric Stoltz, the actor). The helmer has a good eye and a knack for crafting some tense setpieces, and his cast members are all quite good (especially Weston and Griffith, who create a believable bond as brothers onscreen). In addition, the movie looks pretty great, bathed in cool hues and drenched in darkness for most of its scant running time. However, the film tends to drag for long stretches throughout (even during the opening scene), killing any momentum it manages to build when it’s working well. Sure, the movie lasts only 88 minutes, but some further trimming might’ve saved the pacing from trudging along at times.
That aside, the biggest issue this reviewer has with Under the Bed is how unsure it is of what type of film it wants to be. The first two thirds, the occasional f-bomb aside, is pure 80s PG-13 spooky kids flick. However, the final third forgoes the creepy, less-is-more approach in favor of going full-on Hatchet on the audience, spraying the walls with blood, grue, and a few impressive gags involving beheadings, dismemberment, and… I don’t even know how to label what happens to one character (he gets “Crowley’d,” perhaps?). This wild shift in tone throws the whole thing into camp territory, from which it never quite recovers (the less said about the exploration into the world underneath Neal’s bed, the better). It’s a shame because the movie did show some promise before it ran so gleefully off the rails.
XLRator’s Blu-ray boasts an impressive image, with sharp detail and deep blacks (all the better to present the film’s shadow-laden photography). The 5.1 audio track does justice to the quite good sound design, featuring enough aural trickery to unnerve viewers during some of the creepier sequences. Unfortunately, the disc’s only bonus feature is the theatrical trailer. Sigh.
While Under the Bed is pretty far from perfect, it’s a harmless enough watch with a set of decent performances and some truly creepy sequences. If you have the time to spare, you might try giving it a look. Just don’t expect anything but a decent night’s sleep after.
2 out of 5
1/2 out of 5