Dimension Films // 2002 // 105 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // March 28th, 2003
World War II is about to get a lot more scary...
On a routine rescue mission, the crew of the World War II submarine, USS Tiger Shark, is about to discover there's something vastly more terrifying than the ocean's depths. After picking up three survivors from a wrecked U-boat (including the always attractive Olivia Williams, Rushmore), the crew's vessel begins creak and moan...and it ain't because of the pressure on the bulkhead! The captain (Bruce Greenwood, Double Jeopardy) at first ignores the strange happenings, but one sailor (Matt Davis, Legally Blonde) -- and eventually the rest of submarine's crew (including Scott Foley, Zach Galifanakis, Dexter Flectcher, Holt McCallany, and Jason Flemying) -- begins to suspect that it's possible their steel home may be a haunted house. Apparitions come and go, record players belt out Benny Goodman songs on their own, and voices from beyond the grave shake the men to their very core. Suddenly the Tiger Shark seems to have a mind of its own as the crew realizes that it's heading back to an area of the sea that holds dark secrets and deadly discoveries!
Below is a movie that holds oodles of promise, yet still ends up being a stagnant, run-of-the-mill ghost story. While I did enjoy some of Below's twists and turns (even though many devices I saw coming from a mile away), the film never adds up to the sum of its parts. When a horror story has this many moaning voices and creaky noises, viewers expect an exciting payoff; instead, Below ends not with a bang but with a hollow whimper. The film certainly doesn't suffer from a creepy atmosphere, framed nicely by DP Ian Wilson's unique eye. Director David Twohy (The Arrival, Pitch Black), working from a script co-written with David Aronofsky and Lucas Sussman, is able to wring some suspense out of the chilling submarine, but too little goes unresolved and by the end we're left with an anticlimactic conclusion. There are a lot of obvious scary movie clichés, including slamming doors, Dolby 5.1 voices (they're all around me!), and creaking/banging/scratching sounds coming from off screen. While some of the ideas in Below are different than most thrillers/horror flicks, there just seems to be something lacking in the script. It's my duty to let you gore hounds know that there's little in the way of blood or monsters here -- the film relies solely on visceral sounds and editing to convey its frights. Every time I see one of these military submarine movies, I'm bombarded by young, interchangeable actors that almost always look the same. This time around the standouts are Zach Galifianakis (Out Cold) as the boat's resident weirdo and Matt Davis as the head protagonist who has the hots for the Olivia Williams character (and I ask you, does anyone play cold better than Ms. Williams?). Bruce Greenwood as the captain with a secret seems to almost be miscast -- he's far less imposing than the role requires. I watched Below around the same time as that other Carnival Cruise line horror movie, Ghost Ship, and I gotta admit that I enjoyed that flick a lot more than this one. Call me old fashioned, but I'd rather see a couple dozen people sliced in half by mesh wire than someone moaning low in a hallway. Then again, opinions vary -- enter at your own risk.
Below is presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, complemented by an anamorphic enhancement. Overall this is a very dark film (hey, it takes place in an old submarine, what did you expect?), so don't be surprised to see hardly any pastel colors along the way. Otherwise, Buena Vista has produced a very attractive transfer with solid dark levels and lots of blues and blacks (the predominant colors in the film). No harsh edge enhancement or pixelation was spotted anytime during the proceedings. The soundtrack is presented in an equally nice Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix in English. Much like the video portion of this disc, the audio track is exceptional with lots of creaking, groaning directional effects to lift the hairs on the back of your neck. The mix is thorough and clear with oodles of great surround sounds throughout. All aspects of the track are free and clear of any hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
Although this was a blink-or-you'll-miss-it title when it hit theaters last year, Buena Vista has included a few extra features on this disc. To start with there's a commentary track by director Twohy and stars Matt Davis, Bruce Greenwood, Holt McCallany, Zach Galifianakis, and Nick Chinlund. This is an above-average commentary that features all six participants chatting about the technical aspects of the film, what it was like shooting a movie waist deep in cold water, and various other tidbits about the production. Although Twohy isn't always the most talkative of participants, the actors keep this track moving along briskly. Next up are three deleted scenes featuring optional commentary by the director. Most of these were cut for a good reason -- they're boring. Finally, there is a short 12-minute featurette titled "The Process," which includes interviews with Twohy (your basic promotional fluff), as well as a theatrical trailer for the film presented in anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dimension Films
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary Track by Director David Twohy and Actors Matt Davis, Bruce Greenwood, Holt McCallany, Zach Galifianakis, and Nick Chinlund
* Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by the Director
* Theatrical Trailer
* Official Site