The Dark Below (Movie Review)

The Dark Below (Movie Review)
5 10

PLOT: Dropped into a frozen lake by a killer, a woman thinks back on how she got into this mess while struggling to survive.

REVIEW: Sometimes the concept of a certain movie can seem so intriguingly unique that after hearing just the basic idea your mind starts reeling with excitement over its potential and with wonder as you ponder what the filmmaker might do with that idea. And sometimes when you see the finished movie you find that the filmmaker really didn't do all that much with it.

Director Douglas Schulze's THE DARK BELOW has had me on the hook ever since I first heard about it a year and a half ago, as I fascinated by the thought of a film being set almost entirely on and beneath the surface of a frozen lake as a woman struggles to survive in the cold water, a killer waiting above her. It sounded like the film would be a cat and mouse game between the woman and the killer as she tries to escape the situation, a scenario that would play out with almost no dialogue. How could Schulze build a feature film from this idea, how would he make it last for more than an hour? What sort of things would the woman be doing to try to survive? I had no idea, but I trusted Schulze to make it interesting.

When I finally got a chance to watch THE DARK BELOW, it quickly became clear that the main way Schulze managed to get the movie to feature length was through an excessive use of slow motion. The movie begins by dropping us right into the action - the first thing we see is the woman (Lauren Mae Shafer) being attacked by the killer (David G.B. Brown). She is incapacitated, he puts her in a wetsuit, drags her down to the lake, chops a hole in the frozen surface, and drops her into the water. That sounds like it should happen pretty quickly, doesn't it? It doesn't happen quickly. Thanks to slow motion, that sequence takes up more than 10 minutes.

As you might expect, THE DARK BELOW is a short movie. Just over 75 minutes, and that's counting 5 and a half minutes of end credits. I wouldn't have thought that a movie that has the credits rolling in under 70 minutes could so thoroughly wear out its welcome, but this one had me tired of watching it within 10. This probably would have benefited from being a short, because I doubt there is more than 35 minutes of content packed into those 70 minutes.

As for the struggle for survival that I was so interested in seeing, it's barely a struggle at all. The woman's time in the water primarily consists of her just floating there while she has flashbacks to the events that led up to her being put in this predicament. These flashbacks show us who the killer is and why he has chosen to kill the woman, and they're presented to us with almost no sound aside from the score by David Bateman and Eric Correa. The characters mostly communicate through looks, but sometimes they do talk to each other, we just don't hear it. So that's how THE DARK BELOW gets by with having just one line of dialogue; by drowning out all the other lines. Among the people we don't get to hear speak is Veronica Cartwright of ALIEN and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS '78, playing the woman's mom.

The frozen lake part of the film is a disappointment, but there are actually some good, involving parts to the flashback story. It would have been a more typical film, but it might have been a more enjoyable viewing experience if Schulze had given us the story (which he wrote with Jonathan D'Ambrosio) in a more linear fashion, and let us get to know the characters better by allowing us to hear their conversations. That version of THE DARK BELOW might have even been able to sustain its feature length running time.

There are some great ideas at the core of THE DARK BELOW, but the movie falls far short of its potential. The way Schulze brought the ideas to the screen did not work for me. It's really only worth seeking out if you want to watch 70 minutes of not much happening in quiet slow motion.

Extra Tidbit: Parade Deck Films will release THE DARK BELOW on Friday, March 17th in L.A. and Friday, March 24th in NYC, with additional cities following suit.



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