What lies beneath? Judge David Johnson!
Our review of Beneath (2007), published July 31st, 2007, is also available.
Terror lies just below the surface.
Some jerks get stuck on a boat in the middle of a lake and are systematically devoured by a mutant catfish. No way to screw this up, right?
Facts of the Case
There's something going on at Black Lake. All the old codgers issue grave warnings about an ancient menace that patrols the waters. But when Johnny (Daniel Zovatto) sees an opportunity to hang with the cool kids in high school and perhaps cozy up to the girl he's been pining for, he ignores the warnings and captains the rowboat across the water. Inevitably, things go wrong and the teens find themselves stranded, immobile and utterly at the mercy of the killer fish—and their own jerk tendencies.
The moron cannon fodder is a prerequisite for horror movies, but the stiffs in Beneath are the absolute dumbest dumbasses around and, frankly, they deserve as much dying as possible. The death fish is doing God's work here, thinning the gene pool of the degenerate bloodlines that will be the undoing of us all. Worse, they're unlikable, dinks who deserve every bad thing coming to them and that means the tension is all but evaporated before the first kid gets chomped.
Which is fine if the film had a self-aware genome in its makeup, but writer/director Larry Fessenden keeps everything dead straight and that means you get the worst of both worlds: hateable characters with no sense of humor.
It all starts with Johnny. Right out of the gate Beneath stumbles because this toolbag willfully puts himself and these kids into danger. Part of what makes horror horror is the dynamic of hapless victims preyed upon by terrible, uncontrollable forces; this guy knows exactly what's up and for some reason places himself in a position where getting eaten alive and drowned simultaneously is a very real possibility. If he wanted to rub out the other guys and get some quality time with the girl, fine, I can get behind that maliciousness; but the dude just lollygags, knowing that painful death—for himself!—is imminent.
Then, when the terror strikes, the others go about making decisions no one would make; if you saw a humongous aquatic nightmare in the water would you a) paddle furiously, b) scream at the top of your lungs, c) both or d) neither, then smack at giant horrific beast with your paddles, doing nothing because it's a giant horrific beast and you're using flimsy wooden paddles and the last thing you want to do is risk the only source of mobility. It goes downhill from there, with inane decision piled upon inane decision until there's no one left and the movie ends. And if you were to power through all this plotting and character ridiculousness, for your trouble you'd be met with some of the very worst acting you've seen.
Shout Factory's Beneath (Blu-ray) is actually decent, starting with a rich, clean 1.78:1/1080p transfer that brings out the woodsy menace like a champ and a solid 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix. Extras: Director's commentary, a lengthy making-of featurette and three behind-the-scenes featurettes ("Fessenden on Jaws," "From the Web: What the Zeke?" and "What's in Back Lake").
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The real crime in all this? The creature design is terrific…and practical!
What should have been a horror lay-up ultimately flounders.
Guilty. Pan-fry this thing to oblivion.
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