Coal mining is a scarily dangerous profession. Our need for crude energies leads thousands of people to risk their lives every day mining for energy. It’s a wonder that with such harsh conditions, it’s taken this long for a film to capitalize on that setting’s natural creepiness. Now we finally have one in Beneath, a film inspired by a true story of several miners getting trapped in a mine.
Eschewing traditional horror and instead developing a surprising psychological thriller, Beneath is a unique take on paranoia, isolation, and suffocation. It’s just too bad you don’t really care what happens to any of these people.
Director: Ben Ketai
Release Date: June 27, 2014 (VOD), July 25th (Theatrically)
As George Marsh (Jeff Fahey) prepares to retire, his daughter Samantha (Kelly Noonan) decides to accompany him down in the coal mine in order to prove to his gang of drinking buddies that she’s tough. After an accident causes the mine to cave in, the small crew must wait 72 hours for rescue. With fading oxygen and tensions rising high, the crew must survive without hurting each other.
When I saw the first trailer for this film, I honestly wasn’t too enthralled to review it. It looked interesting enough, but I’ve sat through far too many generic slasher films to take another serious plunge. Thankfully, Beneath isn’t a slasher film and was sort of incorrectly sold as one. In fact, the most refreshing thing about the film is that there’s hardly any violence at all. Most of the film’s horror is of the psychological variety, and it’s quite impressive when it all goes down. But the unfortunate fact of the matter is, to have a successful psychological thriller, you need characters that work.
Beneath is filled with awful people. When you get the conventional horror stereotypes clashing with the depth the narrative is attempting, eventually one is going to collapse under the weight of the other. The tough guy, the sickly old man, the girl, these are fine and dandy, but they’re hardly developed into anything worthwhile before the mysterious deaths begin. Unfortunately, the little development they do get is wasted as each person is a little more unbearable. You kind of start rooting for their demise. Even the main character, Sam, feels like she’s just getting in the way. In a morbid way, I guess there’s an audience for that particular type of horror, but as mentioned before, it feels totally out of place with the film’s themes.
But when Beneath works with its themes rather than against them, the film absolutely nails it. It’s put together very well. The cave is appropriately shallow, lots of scenes are littered with the sound of breathing (instead of being edited out like in most films), and regardless of how I feel about their personalities, the miners all act rationally and make sound decisions. But as much as I want to compliment the film’s focus on paranoia, the physical manifestation of it is confusing. I won’t go into detail here so you can discover it for yourself, but when you figure out that the goings on are from a certain point of view, it riddles the film with holes. It’s a nice decision leading up to the finale, but it throws the rest into disarray.
Overall, Beneath is a film with an interesting premise that fails to execute it cleanly. Some shining spots manage to break through this dark cave, but they’re quickly smothered by weird decisions. Once the film kicks in (and the miners are trapped), the mystery unravels and it’s quite enjoyable. You just having to be willing to sit through the rest of it.
Then again, the final shot is well executed, I kind of want folks to see it. At a brisk 90 minutes, Beneath is definitely worth it for the final moments.