Location, location, location. The importance of location in a horror movie cannot be overstated, as the good ones understand that the setting can be a character in and of itself. The Shining, for example, had the Overlook Hotel, while Halloween had the small, atmospheric town of Haddonfield.
Like The Descent and last year’s As Above, So Below, director Ben Ketai’s Beneath is all about location, benefiting greatly from an underground setting that is chilling, claustrophobic and atmospheric. I suppose My Bloody Valentine is the more fitting comparison here, as that location is a deep, dark coal mine.
Jeff Fahey stars as miner George Marsh, who is one trek into the mine away from retirement. His daughter joins him on his final day of work, and it’s not long before the ordinary day takes a turn for the worse. A collapse in the mine kills off much of the crew, leaving the remaining members to fight for survival – 600-feet below the surface of the earth, with little oxygen at their disposal.
There are few things scarier than the unknown, whether that unknown is what happens when you die or what’s going on in your basement, when all the lights go off. No man, woman or child on this planet is immune to the inherent fear of the unknown, and it is precisely that fear that Ben Ketai and writers Patrick J. Doody/Chris Valenziano have effectively tapped into with Beneath.
It’s impossible to watch the film and not compare it to the ones I already did up above, but doing so is quite unfair to what they have brought to the table here. The strength of Beneath is in the way it differs from a film like The Descent, as the monsters and madmen of movies that similarly fall into the ‘underground horrors’ sub-genre have all but been replaced here by that intangible fear I alluded to a paragraph ago.
After the smoke clears from the mine collapse and the survivors find their way into a rescue chamber, with help a mere 72-hours away, the script hides any and all threats in the shadows for the remainder of the film’s runtime, never once taking the time to explain to us what is going on outside the chamber, and what – if anything – the survivors have to fear. It’s a smart move, one that will frustrate many but delight those who don’t need everything spelled out for them.
Given the fact that she is the most like us, in the sense that most of us probably have never been into a coal mine, Marsh’s daughter Samantha is the most relatable character here, and it is through her fear-clouded eyes that we experience much of the film. In one particularly memorable moment, the face of a miner melts into a monstrous form while she’s helping him out, and it’s moments like those, where her imagination runs wild, that Beneath is at its most effective.
True, Beneath isn’t the first horror film to use innermost fears as a launching point, though it pulls the idea off really well, and I especially commend it for not answering questions that were better left unanswered. Many reviews of the film criticize the open-ended nature of the ending, but I for one applaud it, as it’s the mystery of what’s really going on down in the mine that makes Beneath a truly compelling little horror film – what’s real and what’s not is entirely up to YOU.
At its core, Beneath is an examination of the fear, paranoia and distrust that comes along with being trapped in a dangerous and unfamiliar location, with people you’re not all that familiar with. It’s not easy to pull off a horror film such as this, where the villain(s) seem to reside entirely in the minds of the characters, but this gem of an indie effort serves as proof that the unknown is indeed scarier than the known.
Turn off all the lights and stream this one on Netflix, next time you’re looking to infuse a little terror into your night. Beneath is low-budget horror done right.
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