Being trapped in a collapsed coal mine sounds like it would be pretty damn horrible. I could think of a thousand other places I would rather be than trapped in a mine (the hospital, the proctologist, Florida). Throw in some ambiguous subterranean evil forces and a collapsed mine is certainly the least desirable place on the planet.
That’s just where the characters of the new survival thriller Beneath wind up, pitted against wickedness and their own paranoia hundreds of feet below the surface in a crumbling mine. It’s a nice mix of real-life horrors such as depleting oxygen in a claustrophobic environment and ambivalent supernatural elements. The premise itself is interesting and a guaranteed recipe for terror, but sadly Ben Ketai’s film fails to really run with it. The result is a fairly ordinary suspense film with moments of terror sprinkled throughout.
That’s not to say Beneath is a bad movie – it’s just routine. Luckily it has a strong cast, headed up by Jeff Fahey (The Lawnmower Man) and featuring Brent Briscoe (Mulholland Drive) and Joey Kern (Cabin Fever). Newcomer Lauren Gores plays Fahey’s daughter, an environmental lawyer who’s allowed to go down into the mines with them for one day so she can see what her dad has been doing at work for the past 35 years. The possible insurance liability nightmare of allowing an untrained person go down into a coal mine turns out to be the least of their problems.
Things are going smoothly and Fahey’s daughter is proving she’s got the stones to do mine work, then a cave-in traps all of them in a small area. Luckily it’s the area where there’s an emergency bunker complete with oxygen tanks and what look like pamphlets from the mine company. I hope they’re pamphlets explaining their life insurance policies, that would be nice. Fahey manages to contact the rescue team, who tells them it’ll be 72 hours until they can reach them. As long as they can hunker down in the bunker and not kill each other, everything will be cool.
A litany of bizarre things start to happen. At first it seems like just the group being paranoid, but the story gradually builds up to straight-up supernatural elements. These parts are most effective when less-is-more. For instance, one guy gets a pick-axe to the belly and we see his guts strewn everywhere. But more potent is the miner left behind in the bunker, who swears people were banging on the door. We never see who it is, or what it is. This works better for me than gore, especially in a mine where it’s impossible to see more than six feet in front of you.
The source of the evil is never fully developed, though there is a reference to another group of miners who were trapped and died nearby back in the 1920s. The lack of development and failure to embellish its plot may be Beneath‘s biggest problems, as it builds up to an end without throwing any surprises in. The premise alone is enough to evoke anxiety for the miners, but the filmmakers fail to exploit the situation and put their own unique spin on it.
Beneath hits VOD June 27.
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