Six high school friends celebrating graduation with trip to a remote lake find themselves stranded in a rowboat after being attacked by a man-eating fish. With their options for reaching land beginning to dwindle, they start to consider more extreme measures of survival, they must decide who must be sacrificed as they fight their way back to shore.
One quick glance and you’d mistake Beneath for yet another Jaws-style clone featuring an aquatic monster. That’s how it looks like it is being sold with the front cover of the blu-ray showcasing the monster in its toothy glory. For a little part of Beneath, that’s the type of film you’ll get. In fact, Beneath reminded me a lot of one of the segments from Creepshow II entitled ‘The Raft’ where a group of college friends are stuck on a platform in the middle of a lake with a dangerous monster preventing their escape. But, pardon the expression, beneath the surface there is something else at work here. The monster is only half of the problem. Hence why Beneath……
The killer fish is simply a catalyst for events. Like many a horror film, the monster is there simply to turn up the pressure on the humans and get them to start making decisions that sees us revert back to type: primitive, savage and generally bloodthirsty creatures. Strip back away all of the domesticated and moralised gloss and we’re animals, capable of amazing acts of barbarism and cruelty (one only needs to watch one or two daily news reports to see the sort of things we, as a race, are capable of). Thrown into some life-or-death scenario like this and we would forget the ‘rules’ that keep us in check. Survival of the fittest comes back into play. Romero’s zombie films were perfect examples of this: look at Day of the Dead for instance and see how little zombie interaction there is for the middle third of the film. Beneath follows the same idea.
The fish does do a fair bit of damage throughout the film and it’s always lurking around for its next meal. But as the situation worsens, the characters begin to turn on each other, realising that the only way to survive is to sacrifice someone to keep the fish ‘occupied’ whilst they continue to paddle to shore. The fish becomes second nature to the evils of humanity. However, there is a problem I have with Beneath and the direction it suddenly takes here: it doesn’t take long for the characters to turn on each other. Like literally within the space of a few hours. And not even just arguing or bickering like you’d see elsewhere. This is full on murder – throwing people overboard to an inevitable and gory death. I know their situation is perilous but seriously, how could they call these people friends if they could stab you in the back at the first chance they got?
The fish looks as good/bad as it needs to be. It’s got massive bug-eyes, long razor-sharp teeth and isn’t the biggest fish to grace the Earth. The film never explains the fish or why no one is really trying to decipher where something that looks like it came from the time of dinosaurs is living and swimming and eating in this lake. It’s just taken for matter of fact. It’s brought to life with an animatronic model so there’s a nice sense of realism to the effects. You never get a look at it for more than a few seconds at a time but it swims around realistically, surfaces when you least expect it and has plenty of jaw movement so kudos to the prop makers for having the guts to make something practical rather than CGI it. But as I’ve said, the fish isn’t the real focus and it works much the better for it.
The cast of characters are well-rounded and though they do fall into teenage stereotypes, the film isn’t one to play upon genre tropes for too long. In fact there are a few scenes in which these stereotypes are played to, particularly some of the tense decision moments where the survivors are making cases for who should stay on the boat and who should go for help (i.e. try and swim and be eaten), and the strengths and weaknesses of each token role are laid bare. The characters also have a fair bit of back story to them and a lot of this dirty linen is dragged up as they plead and beg for their lives. The dialogue can seem a little clunky at times but the performances on the whole are very good. Mark Margolis, famous for his portrayal of mute drug lord Tito Salamanca (the ‘ding ding ding ding’ guy) from TV’s Breaking Bad, pops up in a brief role as the ‘Crazy Ralph’ character who warns the kids not to go out onto the lake and whom no one listens to.
Beneath was a pleasant surprise. I went in expecting a low budget Jaws clone and was met with something more thought-provoking which didn’t pander to the genre norms and actually had an interesting take on the usual creature feature film. It does have its flaws and it’s by far from being completely watchable but Beneath is worth a look if there’s nothing else that takes your interest.