Studio: Parade Deck Films
Director: Douglas Schulze
Writer: Douglas Schulze, Jonathan D’Ambrosio
Producer: Douglas Schulze, Kurt Eli Mayry, Kathryn J. McDermott
Stars: Lauren Shafer, David G.B. Brown, Veronica Cartwright
A desperate woman must find a way to survive after a dangerous killer traps her under ice in a freezing lake.
Serial killer Ben has an unconventional (and wholly impractical, if we’re being honest) idea in mind for murdering his latest victim. After capturing Rachel in her home, Ben dresses the woman in a wetsuit, straps a tank on her back, and drops her through a hole in the ice, leaving her to gradually drown in a frozen lake.
If Rachel remains submerged, cold water will eventually kill her. If she dares to make her way back to the surface, Ben is certain to do the same.
Over the course of her frigid captivity, Rachel recalls events leading up to her hostage horror. These flashbacks flesh out the mystery of who Ben and Rachel really are to one another, and why it is so critical that she make it out of the ice alive.
“The Dark Below” is a compact, claustrophobic thriller running along lines similar to the Ryan Reynolds movie “Buried.” Sinking its hook with a compelling setup from the get go, “The Dark Below” doesn’t struggle to be intriguing, though it does struggle to expand that intrigue to feature length.
Rachel’s abduction is the first scene. Being tied exclusively to a specific situation for the entire movie to work, the story can’t actually move forward until Ben finally puts her in the water, yet that doesn’t take place until the 10-minute mark. ‘Boring’ isn’t an accurate term to describe plentiful scenes of prolonged exposition stretching the distance between plot points like this. But one is inclined to look at the clock with a sigh and think, “get on with it” several times during the movie.
While ‘boring’ isn’t a fair descriptor, it would be fair to surmise that “The Dark Below” is a classic case of a solid setup better suited for a short. The film runs only 70 minutes excluding credits, with a fair portion of that footage also stretched by slow motion.
There’s only so much that can be done with a premise primarily involving one barrier between two people. The script finds this out firsthand by running out of imagination early, likely explaining why Rachel briefly escaping from the ice only to return to the water to hide is a beat repeated more than once.
Dialogue consists solely of one three-word sentence, making for an almost entirely wordless movie with an oddly atypical structure. The sound side of things is covered instead by David Bateman’s music. It’s a competent score, although like the movie’s concept, it seems better suited for some other format. Bateman’s soundtrack is heavy with Philip Glass artistry and a choir-like vocalist whose operatic overtones are overdramatic for accentuating the action or inaction onscreen. Stakes are high, but not as high as the notes she hits.
From its silent style of reverse reveal suspense, “The Dark Below” is clearly an artistic indie. Its cinematic experiment isn’t always successful, though it usually remains interesting. At a minimum, there is always admiration to be had for a small scope, low-budget production dependent on nighttime exteriors, snowy weather, and copious time spent with a camera underwater.
You know filmmakers and actors are seriously committed to their project when they choose undesirable conditions for shooting, and risk taking a unique approach to suspenseful storytelling. They could easily have aimed for a more marketable movie that had them inside a single location or outside in the sun, but they deliberately didn’t. That alone earns applause.
In need of more depth to its drama, “The Dark Below” is not the kind of thriller with constant chills forcing audiences to claw at their armrests while begging for more. But it is an engaging effort overall, emerging as moderately memorable for both its premise and unorthodox presentation.
Review Score: 55