Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 18, 2007)
Not until I watched 2007’s Beneath have I ever felt quite so perplexed by a movie’s production credits. On one hand, we see that Paramount Classics backed the flick. Seems to me that a line called “Classics” implies something serious and dramatic, ala the Merchant-Ivory pictures. But then the credits follow this with a listing for MTV Films, a name that inspires thoughts of light pop culture.
How do the two combine for Beneath? Not well. College student Christy Wescot (Nora Zehetner) has gone through a lot of pain at a young age. Her parents died when she was 11, and her older sister Vanessa (Carly Pope) eventually dies from injuries suffered in a car crash when three years later. To make things worse, 14-year-old Christy (Brenna O’Brien) was driving and caused the wreck.
All of this leaves Christy as something of an emotional basket case, and she finds it tough to maintain a stable life. She encounters remnants of her past when family acquaintance Joseph (Don S. Davis) dies of a heart attack. At the funeral, she reunites with Vanessa’s widower John Locke (Matthew Settle), John’s controlling mother (Gabrielle Rose) and an old friend named Debbie (Nicola Anderson).
Christy also runs into some weirdness when she meets her niece Amy (Jessica Amlee). The youngster confides that a “dark thing” took away Joseph, not an ordinary heart attack. This spooks Christy since she’d suffered from so many haunting visions herself. She’s tormented by thoughts that her sister was buried alive. The movie follows these supernatural threads and other mysterious elements.
I can’t say that I expected much from Beneath, so it would be a mistake to label it as a disappointment. That said, however little stimulation I anticipated was too much. The end result was goofy at best and absurd and amateurish at worst.
If forced to choose one word to label Beneath, “clumsy” would first come to mind. “Stupid” would follow pretty closely, but “clumsy” races to the forefront in this jerky, awkward flick.
We sense this from literally minute one of Beneath as we follow Christy’s past in flashback. The scene in which Vanessa allows 14-year-old Christy to drive may well be the dumbest movie event I’ve seen in years. Not only does it seem completely idiotic for Vanessa to grant Christy’s wish, but also it comes across as what it is: a moronic plot event with no reason to exist other than to create a contrived event. There are many more logical and less obvious ways to injure someone in a car crash. I know that the filmmakers wanted Christy to be the cause - even though that’s really irrelevant to the story – but there are lots of less ridiculous methods they could have used.
To be honest, Beneath feels like nothing more than a student film. It has the stink of youthful pretension and unfocused ambition all over it. This story could have worked in a much more successful manner, but director Dagen Merrill lacks the skill to make it fly.
This means that at no point does Beneath display any subtlety. It makes sure we see every little element that will become important and never allows any room for interpretation or dimensionality. Instead, we find lots of usual cheap scares and obvious use of music for emphasis. There’s not a single unexpected moment to be found in this stinker.
Add to that stiff, awkward acting and you’ll find nothing satisfying in Beneath. The story meanders and never coalesces into anything worthwhile. The lack of competence behind it robs it of any potential and leaves us with a wholly forgettable piece of cinema.