Beneath the Darkness (2012)
Directed by Martin Guigui
Beneath the Darkness is among the first horror films of 2012, and while it's actually more of a thriller, it has enough elements of the genre to merit a review here on the site. Especially if you, like me, are at all claustrophobic because it opens with a chilling scene in which Dennis Quaid's character, Ely Vaughn, a small-town Texas mortician, forces another man to bury himself alive. It takes some time for us to find out the who's and why's of the situation, and when we do, even though the answers are fairly predictable, the ride to get there was just fun enough to make us forgive the filmmakers for not being able to completely reinvent the wheel here.
And what "wheel" is that, you ask? The Rear Window/Disturbia/Fright Night convention of someone suspecting another of foul play because of what he "thinks" he saw. In this case it's a group of four high school kids who are convinced Vaughn's house is haunted after spying on him and seeing a ghostly couple dancing through the darkened windows when they were sure Vaughn wasn't there. Of course once they enter the house to investigate further, things go horribly awry, and then it's a suspenseful game of cat and mouse between Ely and the remaining friends, made all the more difficult for them because of his long-term connections with local law enforcement and his glorified reputation as a star football player back in the day. This is Texas, after all, and if you've ever seen Ms. Teegarden's previous series "Friday Night Lights", you know that there's nothing more important than winning a state championship!
But back to the film... The quartet - Travis (Oller), Abby (Teegarden), Brian (Lunsford), and Danny (Werkheiser) - are played convincing by the young cast. Oller does particularly well as the more sensitive member of the group that of course Teegarden's Abby is drawn to, much to macho man Brian's dismay. But really, the star of the show is a surprisingly restrained Quaid. He is truly menacing as the obviously disturbed undertaker, and his character arc from beginning to end is quite entertaining to watch, especially in the film's final scene. And, as alluded to earlier, there's more than just our mystery man being buried alive in this tale. The creepy claustro factor rears its ugly head numerous times in Beneath the Darkness -- so much so that it might have been better to title it Beneath the Ground.
Director Guigui and screenwriter Bruce Wilkinson are to be commended for managing to breathe some fresh air into this typically timid and tired sub-genre. I've already mentioned it was fun and entertaining, and thinking back on it, there was never a dull moment. We're only just entering 2012, and already we've gotten one of our biggest surprises of the year. And it looks like Quaid is back in fighting form. It's definitely worth a watch and hopefully will set the bar a bit higher for these types of films in the future.
3 out of 5