Last week your DVDetours guide brought you on board an RV for a "Race with the Devil." This week, as we edge closer to Halloween, we board a different mode of transportation: a WWII submarine in the nautical chiller "Below."
One can argue that horror fans are so non-discriminating that they get what they deserve, but in 2002 it was discouraging to see Miramax genre branch Dimension Films put the full power of its marketing hype behind the tired sequel "Halloween: Resurrection" while David Twohy's smart, stylish and spooky haunted sub drama was relegated to a token theatrical release with virtually no advertising support. The film's commercial fate wasn't helped any by the Warner/Dark Castle release "Ghost Ship" (another tale of horror on the high seas) the same month.
Marked for box office failure without a fighting chance, "Below" deserves to find a bigger audience on the home viewing front. A welcome bit of skillful storytelling in a genre dominated by the routine, the film will please those who favor mood over mayhem.
Bruce Greenwood (versatile star of "Exotica," "13 Days," and the short-lived but fondly remembered TV series "Nowhere Man," among many other credits) plays Lieutenant Brice, commander of the USS Tiger Shark following the sudden death of its captain. He orders his crew to answer a distress call, picking up the only three survivors of a British hospital ship.
One of the new passengers is nurse Claire Paige (Olivia Williams of "Rushmore" and "The Sixth Sense" fame) and her presence – simply by nature of her gender – unsettles the all-male crew. Suspicions about her grow when one of the other survivors turns out to be a German soldier whose identity she had been hiding.
The new arrivals come at a bad time, as the Tiger Shark is being pursued by an enemy vessel. But as one strange event leads to another, it becomes clear that the crew and company are threatened more immediately by someone…or something…within the sub itself.
Those looking for non-stop jumps and jitters may feel let down by "Below," but those who like a little narrative meat to go along with their sugary shivers will appreciate the way the screenplay by Twohy, Lucas Sussman, and Darren Aronofsky ("Pi," "Requiem for a Dream") details the interactions and growing tensions on board the sub before delving into the supernatural. As a director, Twohy shows he knows when to deliver a jump and when something subtler is even creepier. A prime example is a wonderful haunted mirror sequence that plays like a sinister variation on the hilarious mirror routine from the Marx Brothers' classic, "Duck Soup."
Twohy also manages to keep the film visually interesting despite its limited sets. All but a couple of scenes take place within the sub, but fluid camera movements through the tight quarters and expert use of color and shadows keep the imagery popping off the screen.
Considering the lousy way Dimension treated "Below" during its theatrical run, we can be thankful the company has given the film a bit more respect on DVD. The picture and sound quality are superb and the disc includes an entertaining audio commentary by Twohy, Greenwood and a few other cast members; some deleted scenes; the theatrical trailer; and an interesting behind-the-scenes segment consisting mainly of comparisons between video rehearsals and the scenes shot for the film.
One warning for those interested in checking out "Below": several of the reviews I've found online give away some pretty key plot points, so be wary of what you read before seeing the film. Like any good ghost story, "Below" works best with a little mystery in the air.
Films featured in DVDetours™ may be difficult to find at many video stores but are widely available from some of the online rental services, such as Netflix, Green Cine, QwikFliks and Blockbuster Online. Inventories vary from company to company and DVDetours has no connection to any of these services.
© 2005 Joel Wicklund