Studio: XLrator Media
Director: Steven C. Miller
Writer: Eric Stolze
Producer: William Clevinger, Brad Miska, Tom Owen
Stars: Jonny Weston, Gattlin Griffith, Peter Holden, Musetta Vander, Kelcie Stranahan, Bryan Rasmussen
Two brothers must confront the creature under the bed that has tormented their family for years.
“Under the Bed” has realistic characters, believable performances, and a phobia for its engine that reaches right into the heart of anyone who ever slept with the lights on as a child. It also has two crippling defects. Not enough to put the film in a wheelchair or to require crutches, but enough to give it a very noticeable permanent limp.
It may be unfair to open this review by mentioning the film’s issues. “Under the Bed” does several things well and those deserve to be covered up front.
The script starts with a strong foundation. And if the story is a left jab, then the actors are the right hook. From the honest dialogue exchanges to the genuine familial relationships, the words and the performances combine for a one-two punch of characters as vibrant as they are real.
Neal is a troubled youth. His backstory follows a crumb trail that gradually paints his secret history as the plot rolls along. Basically, an event in Neal’s past that ties into the death of his mother sent Neal over the edge. A few months away at Aunt Sarah’s in Florida turned into two years. Neal’s father Terry has since remarried, and his new wife wishes to reunite the family for a return to normalcy. So Neal returns home to find a neighborhood whispering allusions to arson and a mental breakdown. Even worse, Neal discovers that his little brother Paulie is on a path to repeat his meltdown cycle. Because it turns out that the creature under the bed that took Neal’s sanity never actually left the house.
Problem teen. Angry dad. Discouraged stepmother. There are plenty of stereotypical characterizations on the plate, but “Under the Bed” presents them with depth and authenticity. Father Terry is not merely a plot device to ignore his sons’ frantic ravings and keep them defenseless against the monster in their bedroom. Rather than being just a strict, harsh dad, Peter Holden plays him as truly conflicted about how to discipline an emotionally distant son while also caring about fixing their estranged bond. There is a complexity in the portrayal of the father’s frustration that fleshes out a third dimension for the role.
Similarly, the camaraderie between the two brothers is just as layered and natural and avoids forcing a connection with formulaic schmaltz. The “monster under the bed” idea may be a familiar hook, but “Under the Bed” stops itself from cookie cutting the characters out of a typical family TV mold.
The description of two young brothers afraid of what darkness lurks in their bedroom conjures a certain type of story in the head. Before passing off “Under the Bed” as a movie fit for an extended episode of “Goosebumps,” know that this is not the case. If it were not for the occasional four-letter word, acts one and two might in fact seem as if they were pulled straight from the Disney Channel. But act three turns the film on its ear by replacing creepy jumps with head-ripping kills.
While that third act makes “Under the Bed” more appealing to the adult sect, it is this same element that introduces one of the film’s major problems. It has an identity crisis. Swearing aside, two-thirds of the film has “Under the Bed” positioned to be a family friendly fright fit for a Friday night with the kids. Then the back portion starts liberally tearing apart bodies in a finale that seems torn from another movie. With a front half appropriate for the younger set and a back half aimed at adult horror fans, the movie shrugs its shoulders when confronted with choosing a target demographic. The result is a movie that pleases one group some of the time, and the other group for the rest of the time. But vacillating between PG and R assures that neither group will achieve complete satisfaction.
Unable to make up its mind, “Under the Bed” finds itself also unable to settle on a pace. This is another element that holds the film back. The piecemeal method of filling in the blanks about Neal’s past and the nature of the creature causes some scenes to chug slowly. During these doldrums, my mind wanders to thoughts outside of the script instead of maintaining an investment in the fantasy.
I wonder, in films like these, how do the characters explain events to the cops during the homicide investigation afterwards? When a creature oozes black tar all over the place and rips heads off adults and children, someone in authority is going to ask questions. And “monster under the bed” is not going to cut it as an answer.
And here is a million dollar idea. Since monsters under the bed always come out of the darkness, and sleeping with the lights on is impractical, wouldn’t it make sense to create a rectangular under the bed light that shines from each edge towards the bed’s center? That way, it would be impossible to have a shadow under the bed and the light source would be relatively unobtrusive.
While that might be a solution to financial independence, it is not a blueprint that should be thought of while watching the movie. “Under the Bed” has its work cut out for it with maintaining attention and with deciding just what type of audience it wants to entertain.
Review Score: 65