Director: Ben Ketai
Starring: Kelly Noonan, Joey Kern, Jeff Fahey
I’m not alone in my dislike of “true story” horror. Noting at the beginning of your film that the events we are about to see are based on actual happenings is neither believable nor funny. It’s pathetic really, and dishonest, an unlikable combination. No, this didn’t actually happen. No, your movie doesn’t get credit for investigatory journalism. No, I’m not extra intrigued because you think ghosts are real. Filmmakers of this genre need to understand their subject matter and their audience. Sure, I might love horror, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid. I’d rather see tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top, gore-fest slashers any day over fake documentaries or gruesome “exposes”. To be fair, Beneath isn’t Blair Witch, it’s not found footage, and it’s not a run through the nighttime woods. It’s a horror movie, plain & simple, one that’s not awful, that actually has some suspense & creep. But let’s cut the crap; you started out your movie by pretending that your story would be true; big mistake. That bothered me from the beginning, never left my mind, and ultimately made me like the whole thing less.
For Samantha Marsh, returning to her home town means returning to the coal mines. Although she’s never been down in them herself, her father George has spent his entire life working in the darkness, providing for his family, and ruining his health day by day. Samantha moved away to the city as soon as she could, went to college, became a lawyer, and specialized in environmental law. An odd occupation for a coal miner’s daughter, one that doesn’t sit too well with George. But she’s home once again, this time to celebrate her dad’s retirement. The company is sad to see their best digger go, and throw a party the night before his last day in the pit. Sam reunites with Randy, an old boyfriend, and even volunteers to join all the boys for a couple of hours down in the mine tomorrow as a way to say goodbye to George’s old life. Her father reluctantly agrees, and the pair head underground early the next morning, for what will be a fateful trip.
While on tour in the mine, Samantha & Randy work side by side, connecting perhaps. Sam sees the sights, as much as there are; the automated digger, the ventilation shaft, the conveyor belts, the emergency shelter. All is well, until a duo of workers accidentally open a crack in the coal. There’s a strange tunnel leading to who-knows-where, and here’s where things start to get weird. A cave-in happens suddenly, destroying the vents and blocking all exits. Men are injured, some lost, some dead, and the survivors gather together at the emergency bunker. It’ll be three days until rescuers dig through, but there’s plenty of food, water, and air in the bunker. Sam, Randy, George, the boss man with a busted leg, the rookie, the hot head; everyone gathers inside for the long wait. But odd occurences are happening right outside the door; screams in the distance, someone moving around, messed up machinery. The crew venture out from safety only to find death waiting for them in every tunnel, death and worse, with the darkness of the mine closing in on all sides.
I actually dug (no pun intended) the set up; the mine, the crew, the daughter, the emergency that turns out to be the least of their problems. It’s a good, solid horror storyline, one that’s set in a naturally creepy environment and is prepared well for a dark & scary story. The inexplicable noises, the close confines, the curving tunnels, the panic; it all works to create a great atmosphere of fear that had be drawing back from the television more than a few times. Even the acting was acceptable. Noonan, who doesn’t have many quality films to her credit, did well as the fish-out-of-water daughter, keeping her screams to a minimum and actually coming across as pretty badass. Kern, who I can’t help but see only as that douchy boyfriend from Cabin Fever, did a fine job, making Randy a little tough, a little love-interest, slightly brave. And Fahey, who you’ll recognize from a million bad action movies, was fine as coughing daddy, the old pro at the end of his glory days. So the story was prepared nicely, the cast was up to the task, and the mine was ready for some blood.
Here’s where they lost me: the “true story” and the reveal. First, it’s worth repeating that claiming actual events is just silly. We, of course, don’t believe you, and even if a couple facts actually happened we know that 90% of what we are about to see is bullshit. It cheapens your work to pull such a prank, because what you had going wasn’t all that bad. There’s no need to try to trick audiences with a ploy they’ve seen a hundred times before. And all that aside, including the good story & acting, the ending left me unhappy. I won’t spoil the plot by telling you what was outside wreaking havoc, but it wasn’t just falling coal dust. I didn’t care for how they chose to explain the terror, it took away from the believability of the film even more, and felt more like a cop out then an original attempt to tie up loose ends. The meat of this movie is well-made; it’s the beginning & end that fail to deliver, and those are pretty important times. Don’t be fooled by any promises; this is just your run-of-the-mill horror film, and not too brilliantly done.
Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, the video quality is not the problem. Almost every scene was dark, small-scale, compacted, a bit claustrophobic, but clear, with a good balance in color and light. The picture boasts crisp images and interesting visuals; a high point of the film.
Audio – The DVD was done in Dolby Digital 5.1 English Surround. There is an option for subtitles: English SDH or Spanish. Also, you can watch the film with commentary, with input from director Ben Ketai, writers Patrick J. Doody & Chris Valenziano, and producers Nick Phillips & Kelly Martin Wagner. The sound quality is also strong, with a good balance, a good mood, and a creepy vibe.
Extras – There are a ton of extras on this disc. First off, ten interviews: from the director, Sam, George, Randy, Van Horn, Masek, Torres, Grubbs, Strode, and the producers. There is a Writers’ Featurette called ‘From Script to Screen’; three minutes of inside look into the process. Also Lessons From Below: Miner Education, another three minutes of preparation for the authenticity of the film. Behind the Scenes is a two-minute look at the thought inside the plot. Breaking News Report, fictitious breaking stories reporting on the mine collapse. Newsreel – ‘The 19’, another fictitious historical document. And lastly, a trailer for the film.
Skip It. There are ways in which you could enjoy this film, mainly by forcing yourself to believe that the movie is cerebral, that it’s more than what meets the eye. It didn’t come off that way to me though, it felt more like a bad attempt. It tries hard, brings good pieces to the table, and delivers a scary story. But in the end, I just found myself disappointed rather than impressed. The video quality is high, as is the audio quality, and there are a lot of extras on the disc. I wish I could recommend Beneath as a great horror film, something that does credit to the genre, but I can’t. It’s simply not good enough and not worth your time.
☆ ☆ – Content
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras
☆ ☆ – Replay