Beneath Blu-ray Review
Directed by Larry Fessenden
Written by Tony Daniel and Brian D. Smith
2013, Region A, 89 minutes, Not rated
Blu-ray released on March 25th, 2014
Daniel Zovatto as Johnny
Bonnie Dennison as Kitty
Johnny Orsini as Simon
Chris Conroy as Matt
Griffin Newman as Zeke
Mackenzie Rosman as Deb
Mark Margolis as Mr. Parks
A group of friends having recently graduated high school embark on a weekend getaway to celebrate their last summer together before heading off to college. Their plan is to party their faces off at a lakeside cabin, but the kids soon find themselves fucked when a giant fish attacks their boat and starts picking them off one by one. They are stranded in the middle of a lake in a leaking boat without oars, with zero chance of outside help. Friendship and loyalty are soon put to the test as the group must make tough decisions, like who should volunteer to distract the fish (pronounced: volunteer to be eaten) long enough for the others to reach the shore. Nobody lines up for this unpopular honor, so each must make a case for why they are more valuable on the boat than off and then everyone votes. This process repeats in a variety of ways and while some behavioral elements come off a bit forced, the tension quickly builds as alliances are formed only to be quickly shattered.
Beneath tells a simple story that is reminiscent of other genre tales (specifically “The Raft” from Creepshow 2), but keeps things fresh with its straightforward approach to the material. The willingness to put anyone in harm's way at any given moment is a nice plot device, but the characters are supposedly long-time friends yet come off as back-stabbing jerks in a crisis rather than chums working together to solve a problem. This is a fairly major flaw of the script by Tony Daniel and Brian D. Smith, resulting in a group of unlikeable protagonists. The actors do a fine job with the material and not everyone is a monster, but there are some tedious moments of bickering that may test your patience.
The cast is made up primarily of unknowns, which keeps audiences guessing who will be the final survivor (if there is to be one). The script introduces everyone as the archetypes we have all seen before: Bonnie Dennison (Stake Land) is Kitty, the pretty girl all the boys want to date; Chris Conroy (Sorority Row) and Johnny Orsini (King Kelly) are jock brothers Matt and Simon, and the former is dating Kitty. The other half of the group is the dorky-yet-attractive Deb (Mackenzie Rosman, Ghost Shark); Zeke (Griffin Newman, Draft Day), the film nerd who constantly records everything with a camera strapped to his wrist; and a sensitive Depp lookalike named Johnny (Daniel Zovatto, Innocence). There's even a sinister old man (Mark Margolis, Breaking Bad) in the woods, warning the kids to stay away from the lake.
Director Larry Fessenden (Habit, Wendigo) knows his way around a low-budget movie and manages to throw every meager dollar onto the screen. By keeping the action set in one location with a limited (and dwindling) number of characters, production costs appear to have gone into elaborate camera rigs and the design of the killer fish creature. Paying homage to films like Lifeboat and Jaws, Fessenden generates a respectable level of suspense and manages to maintain the tension, even though the majority of the film is set on calm waters in the middle of the afternoon. That being said, there is not a lot of effort to hide the creature and despite some goofy elements around the face, the thing has nice body movement and is actually kind of creepy.
Beneath is the latest offering from Chiller TV, who brought fans such titles as Dead Souls and Chilling Visions. Scream Factory focuses on classic/ retro horror films from the 1980s and '90s, but occasionally tosses in contemporary fare such as these. This current release is by far the strongest title from Chiller TV, and a lot of the credit likely belongs to Fessenden's creativity. While not the best film in his filmography, it is one of his most commercially friendly productions. There are never too many giant killer fish movies in my collection and I can pretty easily recommend this one whether watching alone at night or with a group of (backstabbing) friends.
Video and Audio:
Presented here in the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the picture is sharp with strong colors and deep black levels. The majority of the film is set on a sunny day and everything looks sharp and clear without issue. Flesh tones appear natural but the fish monster does not...and that is awesome.
The default DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is a bit front-heavy, but there are some nice directional effects throughout. Music cues really benefit from this mix and the shift in levels for the handheld camera is a nice touch. A DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo mix is also provided, but I opted to stick with the more open 5.1 option. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion and English subtitles are offered for anyone in need.
Starting things off is a commentary track with director Larry Fessenden and sound designer Graham Reznick. This is a conversational piece that is a bit low on energy, but is still informative.
The largest and most thorough video-based supplement is an hour-long behind-the-scenes piece titled Behind Beneath: The Making of the “Fish Movie”. It begins with a brief intro from the director and quickly moves on to look at the design of the monster, brief cast audition videos and table reads. There's lots of daily on-set material and even some post-production work in sound design, music recording and a quick shot or two from the premiere. This is a nice look at the production from start to finish.
There are almost 15 minutes of outtakes that actually play as a collection of odds and ends moreso than traditional flubs or pratfalls. This is another brief look at the moments before and after the director calls action.
Poster/Premiere offers a 2-minute glimpse at the creation of the poster art intercut with shots from the premiere.
What the Zeke (18 minutes) is a look at the reporting the character Zeke conducted in high school for his website and the production diaries for his movie that would be pretty awesome if ever filmed.
What's in Black Lake (12 minutes) is another internet-based item that features director Fessenden as a conspiracy theorist discussing the legends surrounding the titular location.
Fessenden on Jaws is a really special featurette that starts with a short film and then shifts into something pretty cool, and the less said the better, since the piece works best without spoilers.
Rounding things out is the original trailer for the film.
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