Judge Gordon Sullivan hangs out at a funeral home/coffee bar hybrid.
Now I Lay You Down to Sleep
People in a range of fields have a vested interest in understanding what it means to be an adult and how exactly children transition to the state in which they will spend the majority of their life. There are even those who argue that the transition period we call adolescence is a fabrication created when compulsory education was mandated in our society. Whether it's a "natural" phenomenon or not, though, it's clear that between advances in parenting and advertising, adolescents as a group have a number of uniform characteristics. One of the most prominent among them is a distrust of adults, along with the feeling that adults don't understand the particular experiences of teenagers. Like a good horror film, Beneath the Darkness takes that basic idea and allegorizes it into a horror story, where teen misunderstanding and adult distrust manifest in ghosts and murder. However, like any bad horror film, this one suffers from poorly drawn characters and a too-predictable story.
Four teens investigate a mansion (that doubles as a funeral home) outside their small Texas town and get more than they bargained for. It doesn't help that the owner of the mansion is small-town hero Ely (Dennis Quaid, Legion), a former high school quarterback (which counts for a lot in Texas), who doesn't tell the same story as the kids about their visit.
Beneath the Darkness makes a pretty huge miscalculation before the credits even roll. The cover for this release shows an almost-monochrome scene of someone digging up a grave, while the back cover summary mentions the ghost story aspects and plays up the horror connections of the actors (like Aimee Teegarden, who appeared in Scream 4). This does both viewers and the film a disservice. Beneath the Darkness does have some horror elements (like the ghost story), but if I had to put it in a single category, it would be thriller first, and horror a distant second.
For those looking for a riff on the same tune we hear in Rear Window or its contemporary update, Disturbia, then Beneath the Darkness is pretty solid. We open the film with Dennis Quaid's Ely burying a man alive. It's a pretty chilling way to kick things off, and creates some suspense for what's the come with the teen actors. Speaking of teen actors, they acquit themselves rather well. The script doesn't ask much of them beyond the usual teen stereotypes, but they perform these without being obnoxious. Similarly, Dennis Quaid just has to scowl and smile with equal measure.
If you can get past the poor marketing, Beneath the Darkness doesn't do much to distinguish itself. The "misunderstood teens who know a secret" plot has been done many times before, the acting (while not the worst for a thriller/horror hybrid) is not that great, either. I like watching Dennis Quaid do his best to scowl and intimidate, but it's a scenery chewing performance of the first order.
It's really hard to look past the film's flaws with a Blu-ray like this. The 1.85:1/1080p high definition transfer is the saddest thing about this weird little film, and that's saying something. As the title would suggest, much of the film takes place in the dark. Black levels are all over the place, with crush taking a lot of the detail out of the darker moments. Even the daylight scenes don't look much better, with a flat presentation, unimpressive detail, and so-so color saturation. I feel like fans are willing to forgive a lot of flaws in a film if it looks pretty, but the been-there plot of Beneath the Darkness combined with its "eh" look on Blu-ray may be a deal-breaker. The film's audio fares slightly better, but that's because there are no glaring screwups. What we get is a decent presentation of the dialogue and a few moments of atmospherics from the surrounds. Extras include three minutes of B-roll footage from the production and the film's trailer.
Beneath the Darkness is that most sinful of films: the so-so one. It's not good enough for a hearty recommendation, nor is it bad enough to recommend for those looking for cheap laughs over beer on a Friday night. Instead, it'll pad the resumes of the actors and line somebody's pocket, but only the most fanatical fans of the actors will want to give this flick a rental, let alone anything more.
Beneath the Darkness should probably stay there. Guilty.
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