Studio: Breaking Glass Pictures
Director: Stewart Sparke
Writer: Paul Butler, Stewart Sparke
Producer: Paul Butler, Stewart Sparke
Stars: Anna Dawson, Michaela Longden, Daniel S. Thrace, Johnny Vivash, Zach Lee, Libby Wattis, David Shackleton
A marine biologist descends into madness after encountering an ancient creature underwater.
Dr. Olive Crown, a marine biologist specializing in oceanic trenches, is submerged deep in the sea to test a driven doctor’s experimental exosuit. An enormous creature unlike anything catalogued by science suddenly envelops Olive, simultaneously terrorizing and entrancing her as she is nearly crushed by the beast’s powerful tentacles.
Olive survives. The suit doesn’t. Olive says nothing of what she saw in the water, keeping lips sealed even tighter when she discovers an egg came back lodged in her oxygen tank too.
Olive takes the egg home to the house shared with her boyfriend Matt. There, the egg births a small cephalopod whose ink attack entrances Olive once more. Maternally bonded to the beast because of these experiences, Olive undergoes unfathomable changes altering her mind as well as her body. Olive has unknowingly enslaved herself to an ancient race, and her creature is the key to these Elder Gods rising once again.
The literary works of H.P. Lovecraft have had incalculable influence on horror fiction, though I think there are two reasons why we don’t see more of his stories and style adapted to film. The first is that Lovecraft’s kaiju-sized creatures with sanity-shattering visages are too grotesquely grandiose to convincingly create onscreen without a multimillion-dollar budget. The second is that Lovecraft’s predominantly first-person prose is so steeped in intangible dreamscapes that it doesn’t translate smoothly into live-action energy.
Personally, I’m such a fan of Lovecraft’s mythos that any attempt at a Cthulhu-inspired movie automatically earns my attention. And when a well-meaning indie without the money to overcome that first hurdle, and not necessarily enough story substance to overcome the second, takes aim and fires its best shot anyway, I’m inclined to award some credit for executing on undeterred ambition alone.
Such is the case with “The Creature Below.” While its digitally-enhanced shots are to CGI what a stick figure flipbook is to animation, the movie’s deep desire to evoke Lovecraftian over and undertones pokes through despite relying on shoestring special effects. And even though its portrait of one woman’s unraveling doesn’t create an avenue for a rapid-fire pace, intrigue pulsates in the atmosphere that pushes “The Creature Below” above passable for a DTV horror film.
Acting doesn’t shake the earth like a Deep One rising from the depths or anything, although it is above board considering how little the script contributes to characterizations. Olive’s sister Ellie goes from supporting player to important person in the third act for example, yet the only personality development she has prior to this point is as a predictable corner in a love triangle involving her sister’s boyfriend.
“The Creature Below” could be bolstered by a substantial subplot or two. But these soap opera clichés aren’t solid enough for patching those holes.
When teeth aren’t grinding at animated enhancements of boats in backgrounds or other beast appendages, the movie makes do with suitably slimy practical props. Combined with a score echoing the synth styling of “Prince of Darkness,” there is a VHS vibe lurking about that gives everything a throwback terror tinge without being in your face about any 1980s-ness.
That vibe is where the movie is often effective. “The Creature Below” is built on a lot of silent staring accentuated by subtle music and cerebral swaths meant to illustrate Olive’s psychological descent. That only affords bark as a bare-fanged, traditionally thrilling creature feature, though the movie retains its bite as a low-budget Lovecraft suspense piece.
If you can get past the choppy CGI, which is somewhere south of that used in SyFy and The Asylum’s most slapdash collaborations, and get into the slowly smoldering mood, which may be a higher hurdle for some, “The Creature Below” can be oddly intoxicating. It’s a small-scale production confined to a single location for a large part of its duration, with only a half-dozen essential speaking parts. Yet its tone is mostly on the mark to get the most bang from what little ammo it is afforded by that arsenal.
Review Score: 65