“So how did I end up feeling about Beneath? It was solidly acted with excellent use of music and backdrops for ambiance, which contained all the elements necessary to be a good horror/suspense movie. Somehow however, Beneath just never puts those pieces together into anything that takes a meaningful shape, leaving us feeling like we just watched a murder reenactment show on the Discovery channel, only we know these things never happened…I’d say watch it if you like mild horror, mostly suspense type movies, and need a filler on an off night when you normally wouldn’t watch a movie.” – 2.7/5 (genre)
It’s hard to describe exactly how I felt about Beneath. First I should say that this is definitely a murder/mystery/suspense movie more than a horror movie, which is not at all what I was expecting. Not that this is a bad thing, I like those types of movies to, just kind of throws you off a bit when you’re expecting one type of movie, both by the billing and by the initial setup from the movie itself, and then you get something else entirely. So where did I land on Beneath? Well, it got many things right, it had all the elements necessary to be a really entertaining movie, but somehow it just fell short with little to no tension and a very basic curve ball move at the end. But we should probably break this down part by part.
The Beginning: All good things start at the beginning, except those that start at the end or even the middle but that’s really neither here nor there. Beneath throws so much information at us in the first fifteen minutes and in such a disjointed fashion that it becomes difficult to engage with the movie and the characters, mostly because we can’t really tell who is who except for the two primaries – the sisters Vanessa (Carly Pope) and Christy (Nora Zehetner). The first few minutes aren’t a confusing mess as the sisters visit the grave site of what I assume is their parents (this isn’t really explained or shown as last names are meaningless when they don’t get introduced until much later). Vanessa gives Christy her necklace and then allows her to drive their car for the first time (she’s 14, not entirely unreasonable). During the drive Christy get distracted and they are in an accident in which Vanessa is burned severely while Christy is unharmed (how is beyond me considering she was thrown several meters out of the car on impact but okay, I’ll run with it).
Now comes the next 5 to 10 minutes of flashes from different time points over the next 6 years as Vanessa undergoes treatment, dies and Christy completely flips out at her funeral as she believes Vanessa is alive in the coffin. Christy gets sent to a psychiatric facility where she’s treated but continues to have nightmares and visions of Vanessa and other people she’s never even met, all of which she draws in an art book at the suggestion of her therapist. We’re flooded with information about everything that happened over those years and introduced to characters that seem completely irrelevant and frankly it’s all a bit confusing. The family ties/situation is particularly confusing as very little information is giving other than minor clues. Christy returns after being gone for six years when Joseph (Don S. Davis; her sister’s father-in-law, let me save you some time there) dies and she wants to attend the funeral. She meets her niece Amy (Jessica Amlee) and reunites with John (Matthew Settle), her sister’s husband.
The ambiance that the movie manages to maintain throughout is really good, mostly utilizing the music and just generally somber undercurrents to carry us forward. Not so much with a feeling of impending doom or dread but mostly of just sadness, or even loneliness. The acting is solid, and no one actor ever fell out of step to the point to detract from the film, but no one really shined in Beneath either. It was just as I described it, solid but also stunted. Maybe muted is a better description as no one every really breaks out into any kind of deep emotion or anything that could resonate with the viewer, they are just there doing their thing. Which is probably more true to life than what we usually want in a movie, especially a horror film.
The Middle: I suppose there has to be a middle between the beginning and the end, but again a discussion for another time. Christy still believes that Vanessa wasn’t dead when she was in the coffin and is dead set to prove it. Her niece Amy also sees things like she does, and claims that there is a “dark thing” that lives in the walls of her house. She even has a photo of it opening her closet door during the night, but she’s a kid so she must be making it up right? I love how everyone dismisses children, or the people who at the most risk in movies (or is that real life? Both maybe) as if they’re nuts simply because something is out to get them. This is where the movie shifts from a potential horror movie to a murder/mystery type of thing with a little suspense thrown in there. It could have maybe used a dash more suspense and a little less sullenness.
The story is exclusively told from the perspective of Christy, and because she often slips in and out of consciousness with her nightmares it becomes difficult to distinguish when she’s awake and when she’s not. In fact, I would have to see this is the crowning achievement of Beneath, the seamless slipping from what is real to what is in Christy’s head. It is done with such finesse that it can be virtually impossible to tell that we have transitioned until the crazy things start happening. The disjointed feeling from the beginning continues but here it is put to good use to embellish upon the suspense and the confusion about what is really happening.
For example, when Christy is in her friends bathroom and trying to take her medicine we begin flipping back and forth in time almost, as her pills are pills, then a cockroach. She’s wearing clothes ready for bed then she’s back in the black dress and boots she wore to the funeral and not even in the same house. It actually all works to create an atmosphere of confusion (the good kind) for the audience about what is really going on. Is it in her head, or is it real? Too bad this was the pinnacle of the device, and it wasn’t used enough later on to keep things interesting. Half-hearted attempts were made, but we can clearly see that the writing was struggling to come up with more inventive ways of creating this blur between reality and fantasy. I have several movies (some I’ve reviewed here) I would be happy to reference Beneath to on how to do this better.
The End: Whew, we made it! Okay, so it wasn’t that bad it just wasn’t that great getting here. Unfortunately for us the lame duck that was the build up to the ending leads us to, well, a dead duck I suppose. It becomes pretty obvious rather quickly what has really happened, and I do mean quickly. Almost as in rapid sequence as the beginning of the movie we get a deluge of events that tell us exactly what occurred before Christy figures it out. At first it’s kind of a “I get it!” moment, which is quickly followed by a “Really, that’s what you got for me?” moment.
The “dark thing” is revealed, and a series of flashbacks in rapid succession tell us why Christy has seen the things she has and what they really were. Then the nice peaceful resolution between Christy and the “dark thing” comes and I guess is supposed to make us feel all warm inside. Okay, so I’m being a bit cynical but that’s probably because it really made me feel nothing but okay, hurrah for you movie you’ve got an ending. Much to it’s credit though Beneath isn’t quite finished with us and we get one last twist that is the best one of the movie. It isn’t so much a twist as it is a moment that finally! drives home some emotion. Of course it involves Amy, Christy’s niece. After that the wrap up is pretty standard fare for this type of movie and we’re back to nothing much to see here land.
So how did I end up feeling about Beneath? It was solidly acted with excellent use of music and backdrops for ambiance, which contained all the elements necessary to be a good horror/suspense movie. Somehow however, Beneath just never puts those pieces together into anything that takes a meaningful shape, leaving us feeling like we just watched a murder reenactment show on the discovery channel, only we know these things never happened. It does manage one good “twist” at the end (which comprises all of about 30 seconds) that finally makes us feel something for at least one of the characters, but beyond that there isn’t much here to see. I’d say watch it if you like mild horror, mostly suspense type movies, and need a filler on an off night when you normally wouldn’t watch a movie.
Overall: 2.7/5 (genre)