Below (2002) / Horror-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for language and some violence
Running Time: 105 min.
Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Olivia Williams, Matthew Davis, Holt McCallany, Dexter Fletcher, David Twohy (cameo)
Director: David Twohy
Screenplay: Lucas Sussman, Darren Aronofsky, David Twohy
Review published November 19, 2002
Although I found this submarine thriller to be ultimately lacking in its story, as a horror flick it's still a cut above many in the genre in the last few years. Much of the reason why such an implausible story holds semblance of credibility is due to the fine ensemble of actors and Twohy's very able direction. Twohy has proven he can direct a film with scary but fun thrills with Pitch Black in 2000, and his script, co-written by Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) brings forward some interesting themes and a self-awareness of its own derivativeness that leads them to throw red herrings throughout, even having characters discuss some of the potential twists in the eerie events that transpire. As nifty as some of these elements are, none of the professionalism brought in can cover up the fact that this is still B-movie material at its core which, unlike Pitch Black, cannot rise above its schlock nature to ultimately entertain.
The film is set in 1943, at the height of World War II, on board the submarine known as the U.S.S. Tiger Shark. They receive a message to assist in the rescue of some people whose whip has been torpedoes and are among the flotsam and jetsam in the middle of the Atlantic. They only manage to rescue three survivors, among them one woman (Williams, The Sixth Sense), thought to be bad luck to have on board a battle sub. They are soon under attack and must go down below, but find it difficult to come back up as they are forced back at every turn. However, that's nothing compared to some of the drama going on inside the sub, some of which defies easy explanation.
Although starting off in a similar fashion to the superior U-571, Below soon drifts into the proverbial "Twilight Zone", with a storyline that develops irreversibly into the realm of the supernatural. Although we've seen many films of similar ilk in science fiction, from Sphere to Event Horizon, the writers are well aware of audience expectations, putting enough fog and mirrors in the mix so that we are never exactly sure. Even so, many viewers will find themselves uncovering the reasons behind all of the hullabaloo long before it is revealed, and the result is a film that has a good set-up but a predictable climax and very unimpressive denouement, going limp right at the time when things should be the most exciting.
Below will have an audience that will find it very entertaining despite the derivativeness of the story and the unimpressive twists. There's solid direction, a few good scares here and there, and a director and cast performing admirably enough to make you believe the unbelievable. It isn't a good film by any conventional stretch, but doesn't disappoint because, given the type of story that it is, it could have been far worse. The more you know, the less you'll like, and this vehicle eventually develops too many leaks to rise above, eventually collapsing from the pressure of its overambitious intentions.
©2003 Vince Leo