Below (2002)

Below (2002)

Six hundred feet beneath the surface terror runs deep

It’s World War II and the U.S.S. Tiger Shark, an American submarine, picks up three survivors from a torpedoed British hospital ship in German-infested waters. However as soon as the three are brought on board, supernatural events begin to transpire aboard the sub which begins to affect the morale and the sanity of those on board.


David Twohy’s follow up effort to his break-through success of Pitch Black, Below has all of the ingredients of a good, solid ghost story. It’s got a creepy, claustrophobic setting, it’s got some great cinematography inside the sub and it’s got some decent performances from a weary-looking cast who look like they’ve been out at sea for a long time. Unfortunately the film is bogged down by a lengthy running time and the fact that not a lot does actually happen after a decent build up. Talk about wasting hard work! The film was pulled from a major release and was only trickled into a handful of theatres which is a bit of a shame because it’s a hell of a lot better than 80% of the trash that gets the works.

Below plays out a lot like a typical submarine thriller at first. There’s a reason for the sub to remain hidden under the water (a circling German ship being the reason here). There’s a weary crew, fed up of lurking out at sea and eager to get home. There’s conflict between some of the crew. There’s hidden secrets. The film switches into ghost made about a third of the way through with the ship becoming less of a tool of war and more of a tomb of war. Submarines are a great setting for thrillers or horrors. If you’re however far underwater and there’s a problem with the sub, then you’re stuck. You’ve got a limited supply of air and obviously can’t just step out of the submarine for a breather. The cramped, confined setting is perfect for unleashing all manner of mayhem because there’s no escape. Subs are their own mini-worlds for as long as they’re underwater. David Twohy manages to craft a unique, almost ethereal world. Shadows come to life. Light is as valuable as air. And around every corner, inside every room or cupboard could lurk something unpleasant.

The unfortunate thing here is that unpleasant things don’t lurk inside every room or cupboard. There’s very little here to get worked up about. Just when you think things are about to get good with sightings of ghosts or eerie sounds bashing into the hull, the film takes a few steps back and bores you with more chatter amongst the crew. The sightings and sounds of possible otherworldly encounters are fleeting. Have you imagined them or did you just see something flash across the screen? A little more instead of a little less would have been welcome here. Instead you think you get a taste of what is to come later in the film but you don’t. It’s a total let down and the film fizzles when it should be lighting up.

Twohy does a hell of a lot right though. There’s an effective scene in which a character observes himself in a mirror but the movements don’t quite match those of his own. There’s also a suspenseful scene set inside a half-submerged room where some of the crew have swam outside to try and repair damage and one of them spots something before disappearing. It’s scenes like these that make you wish the rest of the film was as good. It doesn’t resort to cheap gore or cheap scares to entertain and relies on older techniques to chill the viewer as opposed to truly make them jump. This came out a few months before the bigger budgeted drivel that was Ghost Ship and seems to have been washed underneath its wake. It’s a pity because whilst neither film is great, Below does manage to create an atmosphere that Ghost Ship could only dream of for a fraction of the price.

Below also scores points with a solid cast. There are no major names in here which is good because there are some good actors on show like Bruce Greenwood and it also means that all bets are off as far as survivors go. You don’t know who is going to make it out and who isn’t.


Below is all style over substance. If only as much effort had gone into some more ghosts and a decent pay off instead of how to frame another superb shot, then you’d be looking at a great low budget chiller to feast upon. Below had potential but failed to live up to its early promise.





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