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Below
Reviewed by Jason Myers, © 2002

Format: Movie
By:   David Twohy (director, co-writer) and Darren Aronofsky (co-writer)
Genre:   supernatural thriller
Released:   October 11, 2002
Review Date:   October 14, 2002
Audience Rating:   Rated "R"
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)
Below is writer/director David Twohy's follow-up to Pitch Black (Twohy also wrote Warlock, which was one of my classic "Movie your friend rents and makes you watch, and you think it's going to be utter crap, but it turns out to be way cooler than it has any right to be" experiences). Below's premise is intriguing. I mean, when's the last time you saw a supernatural thriller set on a submarine during World War II?

The crew of the sub has just rescued three survivors of a mysterious U-boat attack, they've got Nazzies on their tail, and, oh yeah, something creepy is down there with them, and it ain't Jared the Subway diet guy. The only submarine movies I can recall seeing are ones like The Hunt for Red October and Crimson Tide, and let me tell you, as far as I'm concerned, being on the big tin cans they tooled around in during WWII is a mite scarier than being on one of them there fancy new-fangled nuclear subs.

The opening events of the film are not particularly exciting in and of themselves, but Twohy's direction is confident, concise, and kinetic. Even if I wasn't in a theaterÖ if, instead, I was flipping aimlessly through channels at home, it's the kind of thing that would hook me against my will: "I'm not a war movie buff, and I should probably go to bedÖ butÖ I'll just watch a little longerÖ just a few more minutes." The cinematography and the sound design here are excellent, pulling us immediately into the setting. You get the feel for what it would be like to live in this place, with its levers and hatches and shiny lock mechanisms, Pipes, gages and all manner of temperamental instruments. I don't know if this film was meticulously researched, but it feels meticulously researched.

The film also draws you into the mindset of the crew. The isolation and paranoia. The mix of desire and hostility that's stirred up when one of the shipwreck survivors turns out to be a woman (one crewman refers to her, in a bit of colorful and decidedly un-PC vernacular, as "a bleeder."). An environment in which every tension and conflict and worry has the potential to create a cascade effect, because it's all kept tightly bottled, and there's no release valve in sight. The sound that travels from the outside in -- all the unidentifiable scrapes and shudders and creaks and low wails -- is an earful of the dark unknown. And, when the water holds your enemy, any sound that travels from the inside out could make you a target.

Notice I haven't said much about the supernatural element of Below. It's not just that I don't want to spoil things for you. It's more that, ultimately, Below is a much better submarine movie than it is a horror movie. The idea, I guess, is that the fear of the deep blue and the fear of the lurking unknown will feed off each other, and it works, but only up to a point. Ultimately, the payoff isn't particularly surprising, suspenseful, or scary. Oh, it's a little bit of those things. But, aside from one crewman's encounter with his reflection, there's nothing in Below that really pours ice into your spine.

If you want a good submarine thriller, Below will hit the spot like a six-inch turkey on rye. But if you want something that'll have you digging up and plugging in your old Flintstones night-light, you'll probably have better luck with The Ring.

During Dubya Dubya Two, RevSF Film/DVD Editor Jason Myers killed fi'ty men. Fi'ty men!

 
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