MPI // 2010 // 101 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // April 1st, 2011
This is some sorta kinky thing.
On their way to Los Angeles for a wedding, a pair of lovers barely escapes an accident. Shaken and tired, Paul (Josh Stewart, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and Adrienne (Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Call Me: The Rise and Fall of Heidi Fleiss) turn off at the closest motel for a night's sleep and a little fun. This is a weird little inn, though, and it won't let them have either. Between nuts hanging out in the cafe, a jukebox that won't shut up, and an unexpected videotape delivered to their room by a mysterious cougar, Paul and Adrienne are going to wish they just sped along to L.A.
I'm sick to death of twist endings. It's not that I don't like to be surprised, but these finishes are simple and blatant nearly every time. Twists aren't even necessary for surprise in the first place; good writing can often take care of that. That's easier said than done, though, as we see in Beneath the Dark, a stylishly directed thriller that is quickly sunk by its overwritten and underwhelming story.
If writer/director Chad Feehan's only goal was to create a serpentine plot, then success all around, but there's no substance here at all. The "shocker" at the end of the film has been so thoroughly telegraphed, starting from the moment the couple arrives at the hotel, that the bigger twist would have been no twist at all. With all sorts of multiple realities and shifting characters being thrown around, though, any notion of sense is thrown out the window, and for what? A bunch of biblical references and dream logic that seems to come ready-made out of the same Lazy Thrillers Handbook that has spawned so many other bad genre films.
It doesn't help that the performances come from the same hackneyed place as Feehan's script. Stewart and Sigler have a little bit of chemistry together as a couple, but as soon as it starts to feel natural and realistic, they start having a conversation. Banal lines read banally make for dreadful viewing and everything they say rings completely hollow. The big reveal of Paul's history, the whole reason for what's happening, is deeply unpleasant and doesn't really fit the tone of the rest of the film. Much of that falls out of the performances. It explains much about past events, but also sets up how sorry the twist will be.
On the positive side, however, Beneath the Dark is a nicely shot film. Feehan shows much more skill with the camera than he does with the pen and, though it's not enough to save the film, he deserves recognition for how the film looks. Subtly colorful within the darkness, he gives it a palpable neo-noir feel that reminds me of the better days of John Dahl (The Last Seduction and Red Rock West, specifically). Of course, the story doesn't measure up anywhere near Dahl's work, but it looks good. In addition, his musical selections, mostly blues, are excellent, especially the use of the little-known one man band Scott Biram, whose metal-tinged brand of blues is perfectly suited to the film.
MPI, under the IFC Midnight Label, does fine with Beneath the Dark. There's nothing particularly special to speak of, but it's technically solid. The film is dark but colorful and looks very nice here. The look is a little grainy, but that seems intentional. The black levels, heavily used in the picture, look very good and the flesh tones look very good. The sound is good, as well. It's not the best surround mix, there's little in the rear channels, but the dialog and music are both clear and bright. The only real extra is a brief interview with the director from the SXSW Film Festival. He seems very happy to premiere his debut film on his home turf, but little else is said.
Beneath the Dark is well-filmed good looking picture, but not good looking enough to make up for the sub-par performances and ridiculous story. I wanted to like the film, but I wound up rolling my eyes most of the time.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated