Studio: Origin Releasing
Director: Bryan T. Jaynes
Writer: David Wilson
Producer: Jena Waldron, Brian T. Jaynes
Stars: Holt Boggs, Natalie Wilemon, Larry Jack Dotson, Rebekah Kennedy, Ashlynn Ross, Terry Medina
Trapped in a subterranean cave while hiking on their honeymoon, a newlywed couple discovers they are not alone in the darkness.
“The Underneath” is about as good as it can be for a micro-budget indie aiming for asthmatic horror and claustrophobic chills on a shoestring. That is barely a compliment considering that the wishful thinking production is confined to tighter restrictions than its protagonists.
Newlyweds Wayne and Jessie Evans could have gone to Paris, Hawaii, or somewhere traditional for their honeymoon. Opting for something different, they choose a hiking holiday in the wilderness. The isolation sparks beachside romance until wedded bliss turns into a fight for survival after falling into a subterranean cavern. Wayne’s injured leg soon becomes only one of their worries when he and Jessie discover they are not alone and they have no way out.
Hardly a full story, it is at least a simple enough premise. But “The Underneath” does not have anywhere close to the dollar amount necessary to put a believable fantasy on the screen.
The sinkhole that sucks in random hikers and freshly married couples alike looks to have been built on a trampoline. Taking the threatening peril seriously while watching dirt, rocks, and human beings bounce like circus acrobats is impossible with a “boing boing” sound effect echoing in the head.
Unconvincing production design progresses from bad to worse once Wayne and Jessie fall into a cavern only slightly more realistic than the sets used on “Land of the Lost.” The camera lands in between the couple and more or less stays there shooting the two actors from the chest up for the rest of the brief runtime.
At no time is there a feeling of claustrophobia, desperation, or even the sense of actually being underground. No matter where they move in the supposedly endless tunnels, Wayne and Jessie are propped against a slab of cave rock suspiciously resembling a one-wall set that could fit in a studio apartment. Just as curious is the impossible amount of ambient light coming from who knows where to illuminate everything in the underground.
To create an illusion of surrounding danger, the actors look off camera and reference things the viewer never sees. “This leads to the surface,” says Wayne. What does? A ripple reflects on his face, indicating that a water pool is the correct guess. Wayne takes a deep breath and bobs his head out of frame. The scene cuts to Jessie and a gurgle is heard. If they were actually in a real location, and if the camera ever turned away from the two torsos and a wall, maybe there would be genuine tension in this situation.
Instead, it is a guessing game as to what is going on at any given moment with no prize for being right. Jessie is startled by something flitting before her eyes. Wayne explains it is “just lizards.” We will have to take his word for it.
Any other movie would throw a bone via insert closeup when Wayne and Jessie ogle an intriguing claw mark. “The Underneath” just shows the actors’ puckered expressions, which mirror the ones on the audience’s faces regarding why nothing is ever shown.
In a clichéd scene required for all spelunking-related thrillers, Jessie loses her footing, falls over a ledge, and hangs on until her husband can pull her up. The entire sequence is shot from the height of Jessie’s shoulders. It could have been filmed with Jessie sitting in a chair for all anyone knows, as the phony chasm is not shown until after she is already rescued. How did “The Underneath” think it had a legitimate chance at creating suspense when it cannot properly illustrate anything happening to its characters?
There are flashes of the film’s best foot stepping forward in places despite severe limitations. Then the movie resumes opening its trenchcoat to expose warts and rough edges. Color timing changes in the middle of a scene. Inconsistent background noise is audible when cutting between talking heads in a conversation. And incidental music early in the movie is missing only generic pop vocals to fit right into a mall shopping montage on an episode of “Degrassi.”
Making a movie about two people trapped underground without the ability to portray a realistic cavern equals dead on arrival atmosphere. If someone wishes to be kind, it can be said that “The Underneath” does all it can with little money and scarce resources. But a real estate agent could never convince a homeowner to buy a house made of Lego bricks with the excuse, “hey, that’s all the builders had.” That analogy is lame, but then, so is this movie. The blunt truth is that “The Underneath” should never have even tried.
Review Score: 30