03/26/2016 - Beneath (not to be confused with an entirely different movie having the same title and released in the same year) is a 2013 horror entry that delivers some solid scares, a haunting atmosphere, decent performances, and some striking images, but somehow still can't manage to leave a lasting impression. In this era of over-saturated entertainment markets and formulaic horror films being released almost weekly, has it become impossible to stand out from the crowd? Is Beneath a great movie sadly lost in the noise, or does it quietly miss its opportunities to rise above? Read on, friend.
Directed by Ben Ketai, from a script by Patrick Doody and Chris Valenziano, Beneath is the story of a group of miners trapped in the belly of the earth and the escalating terrors they're forced to deal with. Ketai introduces interesting characters with great chemistry; I don't think the commentary on female empowerment is necessary or particularly relevant here, but it's never a distraction or even a fault. The characters are certainly types common in the genre, but again, that's not really a problem.
Kelly Noonan plays Samantha Marsh, whose father George (Jeff Fahey) is soon to retire from the mining business due to health concerns. Both actors perform very well, their characters fairly well-developed and integral to the story. Samantha is wrangled into joining the crew for a day after a conversation at daddy's retirement party. Unsurprisingly, tragedy strikes on the day Samantha visits the mine, and she's pushed to her limits trying to stay alive and to understand what's happening to the crew around her, even what might be happening to her own mind.
Beneath is definitely a creepy watch, and one that doesn't spell things out: it prefers, instead, to leave its options open, to let the viewer make their own assumptions. Although I've read some reviews citing this to be its handicap, I disagree. I rather like the ambiguity of its premise; I enjoy not being given the keys to a mystery, to be left wondering, on my own, what might really be lurking beneath the soil. Would I be subject to some supernatural assailant, or to the secrets of my own subconscious?
Yet, somehow, this film fails to land. I've read other reviews accusing Beneath of being too closely tied to Descent (a fantastic movie), but again I disagree. This flick manages to feel fresh both in its story and in its execution. Visually (the contrasting worlds of caves vs. sanctuaries) and thematically (the unknown vs. the perceived safety of a civilized world), it goes somewhere we haven't necessarily been before.
Where Beneath struggles most, I believe, is in its reluctance to mine even deeper into its own world. It creates relationships only to leverage them, rather than to strengthen the characters involved. It creates horror for the sake of horror itself, rather than to peer further into the void. It creates a world for the thrills such a world might offer, but it implodes in pursuit of cheap thrills.
I think anyone would enjoy watching Beneath, once, although it'd be forgotten in the end. Rent it, or borrow a copy from a friend. It's solid as a "scary" movie on a quiet night, with a beer and a bowl of popcorn, even if it's ultimately just another entry with easy scares and a thought-free narrative. Beneath scores points for the ride, but it gets lost in a mountain of other horror flicks - the ones that won't take the time to dig a little deeper.