Studio: Chiller Films
Director: Larry Fessenden
Writer: Tony Daniel, Brian D. Smith
Producer: Larry Fessenden, Peter Phok
Stars: Daniel Zovatto, Bonnie Dennison, Chris Conroy, Johnny Orsini, Griffin Newman, Mackenzie Rosman, Mark Margolis
Six high school graduates have their friendship tested when they are stranded on a lake by a deadly sea creature.
“Beneath” has its tone meter calibrated a little too far into serious territory when it would have benefitted from a slier wink of black comedy. The film is only as good as it needs to be for a rubber water monster movie on Chiller TV, when clearly the actors and the production are better than the script that they have to work with.
The story begins by introducing an unbelievable collection of teenaged friends that exists at no real high school in the world, yet populates every B-movie with a slasher-type theme. The jerky jock brothers like to spit out barbed jabs at their so-called chums. Kitty is the girl that all the boys lust after. Johnny is the resident good guy with Johnny Depp style. Deb is the sassy Plain Jane that pads out their numbers. And Zeke is the token nerd whose wrist-mounted camera annoys everyone with his constant filming. No, “Beneath” is not “found footage.” Although that might have gone a long way towards helping the film hide the receipt that pops onscreen whenever the creature appears.
What starts as a celebratory post-graduation weekend of partying on Black Lake becomes a battle against a sea monster when the teens’ rowboat is stranded in the water. The sea monster is in a battle of its own against the budget with a bug-eyed appearance guaranteed to elicit at least one chuckle, if not a grimace. As a practical effect done on the cheap, it does the job well enough. Only a few times does director Larry Fessenden allow the camera to show too much of the creature. Though perhaps if something different had been done at least with the saucer eyes, it could have looked less silly in the close-ups.
Rivaling the nautical cryptozoid for the most distracting element of “Beneath” is the lack of charisma across the board on the character set. The young actors do fine work with their limited roles, but their performances are only able to match the material, which is not very good.
Whether intentionally or unintentionally, none of the characters are likeable. Excepting the first teen to die, who does not have enough time to develop a full personality, the other five all have a moment in the spotlight to show an arrogant and ugly side of themselves. The net result is that the audience cannot wait for all of them to have creature teeth embedded in their torsos. This is a perfect sentiment assuming that the movie wants viewers to relish the slaughter, but not so great for creating any emotional attachment to the carnage onscreen.
In order to make it back to shore, the teens have the bright idea of forcibly sacrificing themselves one at a time to give the sea beast a distraction. Voting one another off the boat Survivor-style, this is precisely where a heavier spoonful of black comedy would have made the absurdity easier to swallow.
The humor instead comes from how quickly they arrive at the conclusion that human bait is their best chance of survival, and no one voices any dissent over the preposterous plan. The ridiculousness ratchets up even more when they remember that they have fireworks onboard and then later find a hatchet in one of their bags to use as a weapon. All of this takes place after several of them have already perished. Shouldn’t they have exhausted these other resources before resorting to throwing people overboard?
As a low-budget killer monster movie intended for cable television, “Beneath” does meet the low bar of expectations that goes with this sort of territory. Fessenden and company wrung the budget dry and seemingly did everything in their power to make lemonade from a lemon of a story. “Beneath” could have had cult classic charm had it taken a self-aware approach by nodding at its goofier aspects, of which the script has plenty. Nonetheless, the straightforward take on the tale has a few moments of entertainment in store, even if the total experience goes right through the eyes without ever registering in the brain.
Review Score: 65