January 24, 2024

Litter Box Treasures: BELOW (2002)

In Litter Box Treasures, we focus on a variety of older films that

aren’t necessarily classics, but are well-worth discovering.

BELOW (2002)
Starring Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Davis, Olivia Williams, Holt McCallany, Scott Foley, Jason Flemyng, Zack Galifianakis. Directed by David Twohy. (105 min)


When I first went to see director David Twohy's Pitch Black, my expectations were fairly low. After all, it looked like an umpteenth version of Alien. (Twohy, if fact wrote the screenplay for Alien 3). Not only that, I never considered Vin Diesel to be great shakes in the acting department. But when Pitch Black turned out to be arguably the best horror/sci-fi film of 2000 (even if it was a bit derivative), my expectations substantially raised for Twohy's follow up, Below, especially since it is co-written by Darren Aronofsky. 

However, with precious little publicity from its distributor, it disappeared from theaters quicker than shit through a goose - I never got the opportunity to see it on the big screen. A shame, since this is one of the few times my expectations were more than fulfilled. Below is a claustrophobic, eerie and intelligent horror film with a unique setting, great production values and top-notch acting.

The film takes place on an American submarine during World War II. The crew, led by Lt. Brice (Bruce Greenwood), rescue three survivors of a British hospital ship, which was apparently destroyed by a German U-boat. One of the survivors is Claire Page (Olivia Williams), who eventually learns that Brice is only the acting commander; the boat's original skipper died days earlier under mysterious circumstances after torpedoing a German ship. 

"You told me you gassed it up before we left."
With the survivors in tow, the crew try to resume their initial route through the Atlantic, only to be undermined by a series of odd, supernatural incidents, all tied to the death of their former skipper. Soon, the submarine itself is beyond their control, routing itself back to where the skipper was killed. It becomes clear to Page that she hasn't been told everything about the events following the German boat's sinking - and something on the sub wants to set things right. 

The story that unfolds contains some great twists and the script allows the actors to make the roles their own. But what reallymakes Below click is its setting. The dark and cramped confines of a WWII submarine is the perfect setting for a ghost story (and makes me wonder how it took this long for anyone to come up with the idea). What could be worse than a haunted house where to escape is to drown? Twohy allows the ship to take on a life of its own, to become a character itself. Also admirable is Twohy's restraint. as he did with Pitch Black, he allows the script, characters and atmosphere to propel the story, not cheap shocks, spectacle or gratuitous gore. Because of that, we may forgive the film's somewhat familiar story and some occasional clunky dialogue.

Ignored in theaters, Below is a tense, terrific movie just waiting to be discovered. Like Pitch Black, it isn't the most original film to hit the screen, but it's stylish, exceeds your expectations and offers a lot of thrills, but not at the expense of your intelligence. As for David Twohy, he’s mostly been in the Riddick business ever since, with the usual diminishing results.

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