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Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/25/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/4/2014
I think that every true movie fan has a wish list, and as an avid horror movie watcher, most of my wishes involve scary films. I would like to see a moratorium on movies where a group of twenty-somethings go on a road trip only to have something horrific happen. If we must see these movies, could the characters at least be likable? What is with the insistence on having us watch a gaggle of reprehensible jerks? Do these movies want us to cheer when the characters die? Shouldn't we care about them? There would certainly be suspense if we did. Beneath insists on being a part of this genre. Can it do something different?
Beneath opens with Johnny (Daniel Zovatto) accompanying a group of friends -- Kitty (Bonnie Dennison), Matt (Chris Conroy), Simon (Jonny Orsini), Deb (Mackenzie Rosman), and Zeke (Griffin Newman) -- to Black Lake, where they plan to celebrate graduation. They take a row-boat out onto the lake and Kitty, Matt, and Deb decide to go for a swim, despite Johnny's warnings. Soon, they are attacked by a giant fish. The fish is out for blood and damages the boat. Even worse, the group loses the oars, so the boat sits lifeless on a stagnant lake. Despite their efforts to move or scare the fish, the ferocious beast won't leave them alone. So, the group makes a decision to vote someone off of the boat and have that person be a distraction so that they can get away. Tensions begin to get out of control as the situation becomes more and more desperate.
I guess for most people, Beneath starts out promising enough...but not for me. We are once again presented with a group of kids going away for the weekend and we know that something bad is going to happen, or else there wouldn't be a movie. Writers Tony Daniel and Brian D. Smith, whose only other credit is the TV movie Flu Bird Horror (which I didn't catch, but I'm sure it's great), present us with a story which is wall-to-wall cliches from the outset. Beneath was directed by genre vet Larry Fessenden, who has had in hands in some good movies, usually as a producer. He should have been aware that the movie was presenting us with a group of incredibly unlikable and generic characters. It's one thing to offer us a bunch of stereotypes, but it's something else entirely when we can't find one in the crowd to support. I suppose that Johnny is supposed to be our hero, but this Johnny Depp look-alike brings no personality to the table and I couldn't figure out why I was supposed to like him.
All of this simply kills any momentum which the film may have had. The idea of turning the boat into a miniature version of Survivor is an interesting one and it would have worked had we cared about any of these characters. The movie wants to shock us by having the group turn on one another. But, when they all seem like jerks from the get-go, how is this supposed to be surprising? If they had truly been friends, then this concept would have worked beautifully. But, as presented here, this collection of people feel like individuals who had just met that day and have no sort of bond.
The fact that the story flounders (pun intended) is sad because I like what Fessenden has done with the film in a technical sense. The fish is simply a giant fish -- it's not some sort of crazy mutant. This gives the story a hint of plausibility and means that there's no time wasted on explaining where the monster came from. I also applaud the fact that an animatronic fish was built for the movie, as opposed to yet another all CG monster movie. Fessenden has also chosen an interesting way to shoot the movie. The fish makes several appearances in the movie and most of them are done in a very casual way. By that I mean that there isn't a suddenly swelling of music and quick cuts to let us know that something is going to happen. During the course of what appears to be a dialogue scene, the fish will appear in the background or pop up by the boat. This creates a sense of unpredictability which would have boosted a better story. As it is, Beneath does some different things, but not enough to overcome the cardboard cutout characters and story at the center of everything. Perhaps the fish will makes its way into a better movie.
Beneath presents the characters with an either/oar situation on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Shout! Factory. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 33 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The colors looks very good, most notably the reds, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good and the depth is well done, as the characters are nicely separate from the backgrounds. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The mix here does a nice job of providing constant sounds of the lake coming from the various speakers. We get a sense of the fish moving, as the sounds emit from the front and rear channels. The subwoofer helps to punctuate the action scenes.
The Beneath Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Larry Fessenden and Sound Designer Graham Reznick. "A Look Behind Beneath: Making the 'Fish Movie'" (60 minutes) is comprised of various footage which documents the making of the film. We see the animatronic being built, audition footage, concept art, a table read, and a lot of video from the on-location shooting. We get a few comments into the camera, but the majority of this is "fly on the wall" stuff. There is a 15-minute reel of OUTTAKES, which prove to be random unused shots. "Poster/Premiere" (2 minutes) shows the film's one-sheet being printed while we also see footage from the premiere. In the film, we hear Zeke talk about his video projects, and "What the Zeke?" (19 minutes) is a reel of those projects. It's really odd that someone would go through the trouble to make this. "What's in Black Lake?" (12 minutes) is an odd piece where Fessenden does a series on webcam confessionals where he talks about the film's story as if it were real. "Fessenden on Jaws" (17 minutes) has no introduction and what we get is a version of Jaws made with 1970s G.I. Joe figures, which is being discussed on a fake version of Siskel and Ebert. Fessenden then takes us inside the model of the Orca used for this short. The final extra is a TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long