Below: Boo-Scares Under the Sea

When I consider David Twohy’s contributions to cinema, it starts with Pitch Plack and ends with Riddick stabbing that guy in the head and breaking off the handle in The Chronicles of Riddick. Everything else just can’t compare. I haven’t seen A Perfect Getaway and it has been years and years since I saw half of The Arrival on cable one afternoon in the late 90’s, so all I have to go on is Below. Reportedly written by Darren Aronofsky, Below is a bland thriller set on a submarine during the 1940’s. If Aronofsky had injected any of his more mindbending ideas into the script, subsequent rewrites by Twohy and Lucas Sussman scrubbed those clean.

Films set on submarines are small lot. You’ve got Das Boot, Crimson Tide,  maybe U-571. Otherwise, nobody remembers you. Thus, we have Below. Set on a sub during World War II, the film details the mysterious goings-on on a sub with a missing captain, nervous crew, and their rescued British castaways. The entire cast is actually a good mix of solid B-movie actors along with Bruce Greenwood, Olivia Williams, and a pre-fame Zach Galifianakis. Also the boyfriend from Legally Blond. 2002 in the house.

The plot is needlessly convoluted with a mysterious secret involving the ship’s captain(did he fall, or was he pushed?), the arrival of some British survivors of a sinking ship, and these constant ghostly apparitions. These ghost scenes are Below‘s biggest problem. The filmmakers seem unsure whether to commit to their ghost story, so instead of it going full hog supernatural, it just limps along before arriving at the most anti-climactic finale I’ve seen in awhile. Speaking of ghosts, Below might have more boo scares than any other film on record. For those who don’t know, a “boo scare” tends to be a scene where sudden silence is broken by a loud noise or instrumental stab on the soundtrack, and instead of a character being surprised by an actual threat or attacker, is instead merely startled by a benign falling object or a jumping cat. In Below‘s case, characters are boo scared again and again by each other to the point of tedium. In the final stretch, one actor seemed visibly irritated that Olivia Williams had been boo scared by his sudden presence. Not a good look.

Along with being a pretty dull group, the actors tend to have muted reactions to the more insane and horrific scenarios they encounter. Upon the discovery that most of the submarine’s crew has been cooked alive in a heating accident, the surviving crew members are generally stoic and not at all repulsed or grief stricken over the tragic demise of their fellow crewmen. It’s not like a pan fell off a counter, then they’d give you some screams.

Below does have one element that helps it stand out against other bland early 2000’s thrillers. It might be the only film where someone commits suicide by shooting themselves in the head twice, with a brief pause between shots. You can look at that as “just being thorough”, or a bad movie completing the slow trudge to the credits.

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