Beneath the Dark

Morality tales couched as supernatural movies are a dime a dozen. While some movies focus on the supernatural, others on the horrific nature of the moral transgression. Beneath the Dark takes an underwhelming, egoistical tale of morality, and wraps it in a road-side motel thriller. The thrills are limited, the plot thin and the narrative tentative. Yet as horror-thrillers go, it keeps away from cheap thrills, making it a lot more watchable than many in the genre.

Paul (Josh Stewart) and Adrienne (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) are driving to LA to attend the wedding of one of Paul's fraternity brothers. Tired and after a close call running off the road, they decide to check into a motel deep in the Mojave desert. The motel, while seemingly unoccupied, has a variety of strange characters and stranger occurrences. All the characters seem to know a lot about Paul's past. Slowly Paul realizes that there is more to the motel than it let on, and that a dark secret in his past could hold the key to his redemption.

The movie has all the hallmarks of a slasher flick, and you keep expecting one of the characters to go all psycho. Instead, the characters are strangely reticent and restrained, which, feels a little underwhelming. The owner of the motel, Frank (Chris Browning), feels forever on the edge between contrition and vengeance - a feeling the back story wantonly encourages. Equally unsettling is an unnamed man (Afemo Omilami) who manages a fair bit of menace while trying not to sound forced. Frank's wife Sandy (Angela Featherstone) rounds out the trifecta of strangers. As a character she is one of the most important for the plot, yet manages to barely be in the spotlight. This takes away some of the mystery and punch.

The screenplay starts off slowly, always seemingly on the edge of breaking free. This gives us enough time to care about Paul and Andrea, and the story enough time to set the plot pieces up. There are several Christianity elements peppered in, but it does not commit to be fully Biblical. The background score is also there.

All in all, Beneath the Dark feels like a movie better than it is and in reality is a movie worse than it ought to be. There is a lot of promise, but it falls short of execution. Maybe it's genre-straddling lack of commitment had something to do with it, but you find yourself hoping something really bad happens. Something momentously horrific that would almost justify the building suspense. When that doesn't happen, it seems petty. While that is not particularly a great term to describe a horror movie or a psychological thriller, ultimately it was the pettiness beneath the dark that prevents it from becoming a really good film.

May 08, 2011

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