The Creature Below Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Dark Rift Films
Directed by Stewart Sparke
Written by Stewart Sparke (story) and Paul Butler
2016, 83 minutes, Not yet rated
Frightfest World premiere on 27th August 2016
Anna Dawson as Olive Crown
Michaela Longden as Ellie Crown
Daniel Thrace as Matthew Gardiner
Johnny Vivash as Dara
Leagues under the Atlantic Ocean, deep-sea scientist Olive has a close encounter of the third kind with a hitherto undiscovered piece of local wildlife – the titular creature below. After being sacked from the job for inadvertently trashing a very expensive bit of diving equipment while almost drowning, Olive smuggles the creature home with her, stashing it in the basement of the house she shares with her boyfriend Matt.
What starts as typical scientist obsession turns into something darker and more insidious as Olive finds herself forming a motherly bond with the creature, nurturing, caring for it and eventually, feeding the thing. The issue keeping this from being an underwater version of the cuddly old ET story is the beast’s altogether human (specifically the blood) based diet. It’s like Little Shop of Horrors, if Audrey was an aquatic plant and also not a plant.
Stewart Sparke’s debut feature film (following a healthy number of horror shorts) is a modern Lovecraft tale – a classic story of obsession, a psyche tortured by past traumas, and a good healthy fear of the unknown. Olive may be more female than most Lovecraft protagonists, but she’s plenty Lovecraftian, all PTSD and broken by the great unknown. Pity poor Matt having to deal with his newly changed girlfriend (dude, you just gotta kiss the girl) and her sister Ellie, who she and the beast quickly tire of, third-wheeling about the place like boring Dan Cain in Re-Animator.
If anything, the Lovecraftian influence is too on the nose at times, particularly during the climax, in which characters more or less read straight from the Lovecraft playbook, stopping just short of using the name Cthulhu itself. This isn’t entirely a bad thing (the mythos is one of the all-timers), but if you contrast this with a smart, original and yet inherently Lovecraftian film like Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead’s Spring (recommended by del Toro himself) or last year's brilliant Curtain, it shows how one can be Lovecraftian without necessarily doing Lovecraft. The Creature Below does so well up until this point, that it’s almost a disappointment when Sparke and writer Paul Butler resort to directly aping Mister Howard Philips head on – turning the last ten minutes into a serious (but still much better!) version of The Last Lovecraft, or particularly good fanfic.
Even then though, it’s tremendous fun. Its scenes of body horror are reminiscent of 2013’s Bad Milo (but better), the rest of the story a British take on The Astronaut’s Wife (but better) or Slither (but not as good), the performances largely sedate and real (save for some eventual and inevitable bug-eyed delirium), the characters basic but likeable. British genre films have a tendency to feel like miserable, uninspired soap operas, but the story and effects combine to make even that work, for the most part. It is still a bit like a miserable soap opera though.
The effects, by the way, should not work to the extent that they do. Atrocious CGI constructs and Syfy/Asylum-level underwater sequences almost had me switching off during the first five minutes, but they’re used so sparingly after that – and in service to the story – that it’s hard to begrudge The Creature Below its shoddy scenery, exposing a sense of ambition that should get its audience on side before long. There’ll be a few laughs at how hokey it looks and how melodramatic the story goes (some of it intentional, some not), but this is a film which knows what it wants to do, and accomplishes it well. Films about the deep sea menace are few and far between these days, so this one should be celebrated, rough around the edges and occasionally derivative as it is.
One of the year’s better low-budget indies and a smart genre movie with plenty of Lovecraftian tricks up its sleeve, The Creature Below is great fishy fun.