The Creature Below (2016)
Starring Anna Dawson, Michaela Longden, Daniel Thrace, Johnny Vivash, Zacharee Lee
Directed by Stewart Sparke
Screened at FrightFest 2016
After making an impassioned – but somewhat big-headed – video pitch, marine biologist Olive (Dawson) lands the job of a lifetime helping to develop and test a brand new deep sea diving suit. Whilst testing this latest technical marvel, Olive encounters a gigantic creature in the depths and is attacked – the incredibly expensive suit ruined upon her rescue by the research vessel of her employer, Dr. Fletcher (Lee).
Summarily fired from her position by the enraged Dr. Fletcher, Olive goes poking around and discovers a strange egg tucked into one of the suit’s punctured oxygen tanks. Hiding it away in a toolbox, Olive brings the egg home. Here, she hides it from her boyfriend, Matt (Thrace), turning the basement of their home into a secretive holding pen for the squid-like creature that eventually emerges.
And then the horror begins: Olive becomes enthralled to the creature when it squirts an ink-like substance into her eyes, leading her on a singular mission to procure sustenance for the beast in the form of fresh human blood. As she becomes more and more withdrawn and physically affected, Olive’s relationship with Matt and her sister, Ellie (Longden), begins to break down – leaving the question of just how long it will be before those two meet their fate at the jaws of the creature in the basement alongside Olivia’s other victims.
Openly wearing its inspiration on its sleeve (Olive even has a certificate from Miskatonic University), Stewart Sparke’s The Creature Below is a surprisingly grim Lovecraftian affair. Dark and moody, it offers little by way of levity – but also suffers with a corresponding lack of spark in its script. Rather than being tense and disturbing, it often feels plodding and morose – which is a shame, as the horror here is very much delivered with a focus on stark, classical style and when it works, it works very well indeed.
Performances across the board are good, and treat the material with utmost respect, but as the focal point of the story there’s little for lead Dawson to really grow into. From the opening, Olive is an unlikeable sort… and she only becomes more unlikeable as the film progresses meaning the vital horror arc of the good, everyday person corrupted and unrecognisably twisted by evil influences is hobblingly absent.
Still, Sparke’s ambition and skill with this Lovecraftian brand of terror is evident throughout, and the practical effects are suitably icky. The less said about the CGI, though, the better – its inclusion standing out like a sore thumb and making the opening, the climactic confrontation and the lovingly apocalyptic ending all appear far more amusing and cartoonish than they are frightening. This is obviously a film struggling to deliver the scope of its concept within the limitations of its budget.
The Creature Below is far from terrible, however, marking a respectable feature debut for Stewart Sparke. The man has a solid mind for horror – an obvious appreciation for unrepentantly sinister genre works and ideas outside of the commercial status quo. Here’s hoping that in future he won’t be forced to stretch his means to the breaking point we see here.