Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Beneath (2014): Losing Your Way

Beneath (2014)
dir: Ben Ketai

SIFF 2014 Film #17

The absolutely non-descript title of Beneath is the least of the problems for this low-rent rip-off of The Descent.

Beneath opens with a title card saying that this was inspired by a true story. It's not. It claims that this is what happened when a bunch of miners were trapped in a Colorado collapse. It's not. That's just crass capitalization on a national tragedy, which marks how Beneath is a crass capitalization on The Descent and other national fears.

The first scene of Beneath introduces us to Samantha Marsh, who is collecting video tributes to her father, George, after hours in a miner bar. George, played by the calmly intense Jeff Fahey, is going to retire from his long-term job, and Sam is back in town after getting a degree in environmental law, intent on taking on the dirty coal industry (among others) to make a cleaner way of life. At the bar, the guys challenge her to come do a day's hard labor before her dad retires and she returns to her white collar life.

The next day, Sam heads down with the guys, and the mine collapses. There are injuries abound. But, then things start to be heard and seen. Two of the other miners are missing, probably still trapped deeper in the mine, but while Sam and the rest of the guy are staying in a holding room, the sounds convince them that the two missing miners are around. Everybody goes exploring, and...yeah, you know where this is going.

There are a number of problems with Beneath, and many of them stem from the changes that the producers made to the original script. The original script had Sam being a journalist doing a report on the miners, and was originally in a found footage format. The original script was also completely supernatural in nature, being about hauntings and possessions. But, the final version reworks the script to be a movie about people possibly going crazy, but doesn't entirely drop the supernatural elements of the original script, balancing between the two. Which undercuts both elements. The supernatural begins to make no sense, and the insanity really begins to make no sense.

In fact, the changes also make Samantha become less of a capable heroine and more of just a crazy stupid out-of-control woman. The film focuses mainly on her experience, but she is either confronted by the supernatural (sane) or goes completely crazy for no reason other than a mere few hours in a holding cell with a bunch of dudes.

The large topics that Beneath brings up get dropped fairly quickly. That topics of blue-collar vs white-collar, male vs female, and environmentalist vs miner are all dropped in the first half and never addressed again. The movie could become a metaphor about the coal workers vs the enviornmentalists, but it would be a really really asshole metaphor.

Does Beneath work as a horror movie? That depends on who you are. I was whelmed by the stupidity of the lead character, and the insanity doesn't have a believable build up for me. But, the cinematograhy and the pacing is nice. The woman in front of me screamed at many of the jump scenes. Other people in my audience seemed to really like Beneath, but the guy next to me walked out on it and many others seemed not happy with it. If you're susceptible to claustrophobic horror, you'll probably like it. Because, Beneath looks fairly nice, but it's kind of really dumb.

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