Even if we solely count the various, voracious beasties that thrash and dart beneath the surface of earth’s various oceans, lakes and rivers, the genre of killer animals has more than it’s fair share of limb crunching entries. So what do you do to stand out from the crowd when you don’t have the raw talent of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, the smarts of Joe Dante’s Piranha or the sheer gung-ho bollocks of Renny Harlin’s Deep Blue Sea? Well, I’ll tell you what you probably shouldn’t do – you shouldn’t make a film like Beneath for a start…
Lakes, aquatic predators and self obsessed teens can be a winning formula if you know your audience – the tits n’ teeth of Piranha 3D may not exactly be Kubrick, but it sure is fun – but if you’re going to go subtle á la Hitchcock’s Lifeboat then you better stack that boat with characters that keep things moving inbetween the inevitable shots of them gargling serious h²0 while their blood stains the water…
A group of six youths have decided to celebrate finishing their senior at high school by going to a local lake and partying like the kids in these sorts of movies do, but there are major issues running beneath the surface of each of their friendships which is further heightened by the fact they’re all unbearable pieces of shit. Johnny is the supposed, quiet nice guy who has eyes for Kitty, a wannabe actress who uses her looks to get what she wants and who is dating intense Jock Matt. They’re also joined by Matt’s wild brother Simon, Kitty’s best friend Debbie and film school geek Zeke who films everything on his go-pro and manages the impressive feat of being the most punchable member of this incredibly thumpable group. As this gang of entitled shit heads congratulate themselves on having not one redeemable quality between them, their plans take a hard left into destination: fucked when a giant, man-eating catfish attacks them leaving them without any oars, a substantial leak in their boat and one of their number dead from blood loss.
Seemingly stuck in the middle of the lake no matter what they do, it doesn’t take long for the survivors to hit upon the idea to start sacrificing each other in order for rest of the group to live – in fact it barely seems to be a hour – and after tipping their dead member into the drink as bait, start taking actual votes as to who should live and who should die.
As this awful clutch of oxygen wasters somehow actually get even worse as time goes on, they start turning on each other, laying each other’s secrets bare in an attempt to not get voted off as fish food as the monstrous catfish can’t believe it’s luck as this gaggle of idiots are actually doing it’s hard work for it? Will anyone survive – and more importantly, will anyone even care?
Directed by indie jack of all trades actor/director/writer/producer/cinematographer Larry Fessenden (he bears more than a passing resemblance to a hugely disheveled Daryl Van Horne from Witches Of Eastwick in case you were wondering), Beneath fails to measure up to the vast bulk of his sizable output by turning out to be pretty fucking awful.
To be fair, I don’t think anyone would be that surprised to find out a killer catfish movie didn’t live up to it’s promise, but while it’s visuals and style manage to acquit themselves enough to make the movie fairly watchable, the script and the acting act like an oppressive anchor that drags the film down into the weeds to drown an irritating death.
The excruciating cast, formed of an impressively unlikable bunch who desperately try to employ the non-existent ad-libbing skills they obviously lied about on their resumes, try to make this fishy slow burner gripping but instead blurt out laughable lines that constantly furrow your brow over the absurdity of their bullshit.
Constantly whining and fully ready to stab each other in the back like an over prepared understudy for a production of Julius Caesar, these teens seem vaguely unstable even before they all hop in a boat together and then proceed to get worse from the moment they all experience this incredibly literal form of catfishing… One guy actually screams at the thing like he’s taking this personally, proving that he must have some major fish issues (fissues?) as he bellows such clunkers at it like: “I WILL NOT TAKE THIS!”, “I WILL NOT LET YOU CONTROL ME!!!” and the all time classic, “WHAT DO YOU WANT!?” when it’s painfully obvious that what it wants is a meal garnished with lashings of white entitlement. Elsewhere it gets even worse with the film student using the movie Shark Night 3D as an example of actual science to prove point, someone likening slinging a dead body into a lake for bait with a burial at sea and hurridly squawking at each other to bail when that’s coincidentally what exactly the audience wants to do.
The funny thing is that the film might have actually play better if there wasn’t a giant bloody fish causually drifting around scoffing arrogant teens while driving the others insane like it’s one of the four horse-fish of the Apocalypse – and that having a group of snotty youths figuratively eat each other alive the second things don’t go their way might have played better. Regardless, the actors involved simply wouldn’t have been able to pull this off and continue to be staggeringly unappealing while sprawled on a lump of flotsam like a second-rate Fake Winslet as they have the audacity to insist that they continue to be allowed to live because they genuinely think they’re going to change the world when in actuality they probably couldn’t even change a fucking toilet roll…
The fish itself – while looking glazed and vaguely traumatised with the PTSD filming this movie must have caused – is hardly realistic but still manages to be more animated than the rest of the cast and lunges and chomps well enough to get it’s point across; but there’s no getting around the fact that it’s still only a fish. Sure, it’s big and has kitchen knife sized fangs, but it’s hard to see it as a legitimate threat then these characters are so dumb they’ll A) kill each other at the drop of the hat and B) so frickin’ careless that one of these idiots manages to strangle himself to death in a bizarre incident involving a rope and his outboard motor being stuck going round in circles.
The film frequently makes some half-hearted attempts at a shadowy fish conspiracy but can’t seem to be bothered to follow it up properly and a subplot involving a protective necklace, a creepy old man and hints that Johnny may have actually led his shit-heel friends here on purpose are discarded as half-thought out concepts that soon sink without a trace.
Bad – and not even in an amusing way – to watch this would simply be Beneath you…