Directed by Larry Fessenden
Distributed by The Scream Factory
Director Larry Fessenden is indeed no stranger to the horror genre. With impressive titles to his credit like The Last Winter and Wendigo, horror fans know that Fessenden will always give them a great bang for their movie-going dollar. In his newest movie, Beneath, Fessenden takes the audience onto a quiet and mysterious lake as a group of high school seniors celebrate graduation with one last party. Isn’t that always the start of a bad, bad night?
Beneath begins as a pure monster movie. And it was quite refreshing as it’s very rare to see a practically created monster used so extensively these days. With digital F/X now dominating the landscape, it’s great to see a team construct a huge, menacing fish to chase some horny teens around a lake for an hour and a half. But, of course, if that was the entire film, it would get a bit tiresome quickly. As tensions mount and our six castaways find themselves in a situation that is becoming increasingly dire, the true terror becomes not only the killer fish in the water, but the inhabitants of the slowly sinking boat.
Of course we must start with the fish. This thing is pretty amazing. Looking like something that came from the show “River Monsters” on steroids and completely handmade (its construction is covered in the special features piece Behind Beneath: Making the Fish Movie), this monstrous creation is simply amazing. The mechanics and artwork that went into it are truly astonishing. And when you see the beast in action, it looks incredibly real. It was a bold and confident move by Fessenden and crew to go into this movie knowing they would have to construct a monster that would be realistic enough to carry the action. The team indeed did just that, right down to the huge chomping jaws. There are only a couple shots in the movie where the giant fish looks a bit stiff, but for the most part it’s very impressive.
The set-up for Beneath is nothing we haven’t seen before. High school kids looking to party it up before setting off to college or into the real world. The cast of characters are also your basic fare, a bit typecast, actually. You’ve got your jock and your nerd, your brooding mystery man, your party girls…you know the crew. Oh, and Mark Margolis makes a fun appearance as the old guy with the warning message for the group. And at first it seems like this group will simply take turns becoming fish food through one bonehead move or another. That is, until tensions start to rise, blood starts to flow and things actually become more cerebral than you would have initially expected from a giant fish movie.
The group members realize their situation is not going to be an easy one to escape from, but they initially work together. At this point, Beneath is very reminiscent of the memorable segment called “The Raft” from Creepshow 2. It has a couple more characters, and it’s a rowboat being circled by a giant lake fish instead of a raft being terrorized by a giant puddle of whatever that goop was, but the look and feel are quite similar and enjoyable. But when the characters begin to turn on each other, the movie begins to get interesting. We come to a point in the story where the members of the boat decide that someone has to make a break for it, swim and divert the fish’s attention, and hopefully make it to the shore while the others attempt to paddle the boat (with no oars, mind you) to the safety in the other direction. It is here, when each member of the boat is voting who should have to take that almost certainly fatal swim, where the movie hits its peak.
The standout amongst the cast, the one actor who seems to bring the most emotion and animation to his role, is Griffin Newman, who plays the film nerd, Zeke. His thrilling pleas for his life in the movie are the high points of the acting. Newman truly conveys the emotion of his character to the audience, bringing some great tension to a few different scenes. Not far behind Newman is Jonny Orsini, who plays the athletic, scholarly and all-around talented Simon. Simon is a character with different sides, and Orsini does a fine job delivering all of them. The other members of the cast do a decent job, all serviceable in their roles, some more serviceable than others, but Newman and Orsini certainly stood out with impressive performances.
Amidst some of the more enjoyable sections of Beneath do lie a few lesser moments. While the movie as a whole does keep you on your toes with surprises, some of it is predictable. And, in addition to the giant fish, there are some other F/X in the movie as well. Some of them are really nice, some could have used a bit more work. Overall, most of the bloody fun of Beneath looks impressive and well crafted.
The filmmakers certainly didn’t skimp on the special features either. The Blu-ray/DVD contains the huge featurette mentioned above, Behind Beneath. This piece is a full hour long and contains all the behind-the-scenes, making-of, and background information you could possibly want. A camera seemed to be rolling at all times, and this is a compilation of some of the more interesting adventures during the preparation and filming of Beneath. Additionally there is an amusing piece starring Fessenden as a nutty local discussing Black Lake in a video blog, some footage of film nerd Zack’s sports news coverage and trailers, outtakes, auditions, rehearsals. You name it and it’s covered in the comprehensive special features on the Blu-ray/DVD.
In all, Beneath is a good time. It was nice to see a good ol’ monster movie again, and the fact that it became much more than that was a real plus. It’s not the most suspenseful, tension-laden film you’ll ever see, but it does a nice job getting the viewer to sit up and pay attention. The fish is really cool and the story is solid. Some of the actors stand out a bit more than others, but overall the work is well done. If you’re in the mood for a good fish story, you could certainly do worse than Beneath. It’s worth a look.
– What the Zeke?
– What’s in Black Lake?
3 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5