Anyone familiar with BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER Season 7 will immediately grasp the basic plot of F-grade B-movie BENEATH. “From beneath you it devours” succinctly sums up this silly creature feature which offers pretty cinematography but basically little else.
When Johnny (Daniel Zovatto) and five of his high school senior friends head out to a secluded lake to enjoy a last day together before graduation takes them their separate ways, it seems like its going to be an idyllic day. Arriving at the lake, they meet an old man who knows Johnny’s grandfather and warns Johnny that he should know better than to go out onto the lake. Johnny assures him they’re just crossing to the opposite shore and will be respectful, but the old man doesn’t think Johnny’s ‘friends’ are the kind of people who’ll keep to that promise.
In its early minutes, BENEATH shows a little promise and the early glimpse of the monster catfish are jarring and effective, especially in its first attack but familiarity breeds contempt and the more we see the creature, the less realistic and foreboding it becomes and the more reminiscent of FAMILY GUY’s Daggermouth, THE SIMPSONS’ General Sherman or even THE MIGHTY BOOSH’s Old Greg it ends up.
When Spielberg experienced technical difficulties with the shark on JAWS, he could at least turn to his cast to deliver the interpersonal drama though their performances but Larry Fessenden has no such luxury and instead of creating a sense of claustrophobic camaraderie with his cast stuck in a boat, he fosters an atmosphere of incredulous farce with a screenplay which clumsily piles on reveals and revelations about the characters which makes it hard to avoid wondering why on Earth these people would ever voluntarily hang out with each other in the first place.
Whatever instructions Fessenden gave his cast, “tone it down” was evidently not among them and as the script ponderously turns to each character in turn to give them their moment, each actor steps up the plate and oversteps the melodrama, draining the film of tension and replacing it with a brittle, embarrassing hysteria.
It doesn’t help that the way the film is shot, the lake rarely looks very big – certainly not big enough to justify going across it instead of around it, especially when at least one of the party knows there’s something awful lurking there. It spills over to the majority of the scenes inside the boat where the shore often seems absurdly close The scenes inside the boat also often make the shore seem absurdly close and there’s consistently something not quite right about the way the boat moves (or conspicuously fails to) as they attempt to paddle their way to safety.
BENEATH doesn’t quite plumb the depths of terribleness THE ROOM does, but it sinks pretty close and when it comes to fish tales you’d be well advised to let this be the one that got away.