Something Beneath (DVD)
Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Kevin Sorbo, Natalie Brown, Peter MacNeil, Brendan Beiser and Brittany Scobie
Directed by David Winning
Distributed by Genius Products
Something Beneath opens with a construction worker building a posh resort hotel coming into contact with a mysterious black oil-like substance oozing up from the ground. The worker almost immediately begins having a terrifying hallucination of a rival coworker he's got personal issues with trying to run him down with a bulldozer. The hallucination ends up causing the man to fall to his death onto some spikes sticking up from the ground. Several of his coworkers gather around, see their friend impaled to death, and begin talking about this man's sudden demise in a manner comparable to that of some teenage stoners having run out of weed or been denied use of their parents' car that evening. I'm shocked one of these seemingly aloof construction workers didn't actually use the word "bummer" to describe this tragic death. This opening sequence certainly sets the tone for the film to come.
This latest Sci-Fi Channel original movie felt like it had the makings of a pretty good serious-minded horror flick, but serious-minded horror flicks are not the Sci-Fi Channel's forte. Instead what we have is a mildly enjoyable bit of hokum that feels more like an extended episode of PSI Factor (I dare not equate this schlock to the level of making an X-Files comparison), or given how cornball it becomes at times, a feature-length Baywatch Nights movie based on the second season of that series when Hasselhoff tried to turn the show into an X-Files monster-of-the-week program.
Yeah, Baywatch Nights season two definitely sprung to mind as I watched this. Instead of "The Hoff" unconvincingly doing battle with some supernatural oogedy boogedy we get former TV Hercules Kevin Sorbo miscast as the least credible priest in recent memory battling hallucinogenic slime. Sorbo's performance is vintage Sorbo and by that I mean that Kevin Sorbo, regardless of the role he's in, always comes across as just Kevin Sorbo playing Kevin Sorbo.
The filmmakers clearly realized the implausibility of this casting choice and had the foresight of having someone else in the movie tell him early on that he wasn't like any other priest they'd ever met. That someone happens to be a pretty brunette who works as a coordinator at the finished mountainside retreat hotel celebrating its grand opening by having Father Hercules host some big environmental conference. The screenwriters also thought to toss in a Thorn Birds joke as well since there's an awful lot of sexual tension going on between this priest and the pretty brunette who happens to look a bit like Rachel Ward. It's okay though; he's an Episcopalian priest, not Catholic, so sexual tension is hunky dory so long as there's no hanky panky prior to marriage.
An environmental scientist had told the greedy wheelchair-bound developer that he shouldn't build the hotel on the land because of some strange findings he'd come across. Of course, greedy wheelchair-bound developers in b-movies never listen to dire warnings, so scientist guy got ignored, the project went through anyway, and killer slime from god knows has now begun bubbling up, infecting hotel patrons, and causing them to essentially kill themselves while experiencing horrifying hallucinations of a dopey made-for-television variety. How hokey are these hallucinations? The script is written in such a manner that a character has childhood flashback to the time when they were threatened by a wolf just so that minutes later when they get infected we'll understand why their scary visions involve being chased by an identical wolf.
In typical b-movie fashion, even after patrons begin turning up dead and black ooze starts pouring out of the plumbing, that greedy old bastard still won't shut the place down and evacuate the patrons. That's why it's up to Kull the Conqueror and his future bride to make like Mulder & Scully, occasionally interrupting their encounters with the unknown for some quality time flirtations and sporadic discussions of spirituality, whether it be of his Christian variety or that of her own Native American ancestry.
Wildly uneven doesn't even being to explain the film's tone; you got the primary leads playing it straight while most of the victims are portrayed and quite enthusiastically played as broad stereotypes, primarily for laughs. Kind of hard to generate scares when the victim is a vapid, video-blogging, Paris Hilton-like celebutante who constantly whines like a spoiled brat, or, for that matter, when the victim is a socially inept geek with asthma who sucks on his inhaler almost as much as a scuba diver does their oxygen mask.
No one takes it more over the top than that of that environmentalist scientist dude. Like most scientists who have had their environmental impact study ignored and covered up by corporate nogoodnicks, he'll turn out to be a complete oddball who'll go so far as to set up a hidden research lab on the grounds of the very place he's trying to prove unsafe. I can only compare watching this comically erratic wacko of a character in action to that of a young Artie Johnson playing a mad scientist dressed like one of the McKenzie brothers from Strange Brew.
The ultimate revelation of exactly what that something beneath actually is proves rather nifty, but the way in which it is ultimately defeated is nothing short of groan-inducing. I must also protest the ooze's inconsistent potency: for some a single drop is all that's needed to immediately begin freaking out, others can get splattered and don't feel the effects until it becomes convenient for the screenplay, and another gets infected only to have the effects where off as soon as a certain priest comes to their rescue. Heck, Sorbo himself will suffer a hallucination near the end and I don't recall them ever showing him coming into contact with the slick. I was also profoundly disappointed with the fate of a character shown playing the video game House of the Dead who tells a friend the zombies in the game remind him of the teaching nuns at the Catholic school he attended growing up; his later hallucinations involve being chased by zombies and not mean-looking nuns, preferably wielding giant rulers.
I will say that the tone of the script constantly changing from straightforward to cheesetastic actually helps keep things lively, and the direction, though a resounding failure when it comes to generating suspense, does keep things slipping and sliding along at a brisk enough pace so that Something Beneath - for all its failings - never comes across as a complete failure. This is the sort of cheesy b-movie that you'd never want to pay to see but should you happen upon it on the TV, there are far worse ways to kill two hours, especially if you're watching the Sci-Fi Channel.
2 1/2 out of 5
0 out of 5