REVIEW: BENEATH (2013)

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BENEATH (2013)

Larry Fessenden is one of the busiest people on the indie film scene especially when it comes to indie horror. If he’s not writing and directing one of his own features, he’s acting, producing, or both, for features made by other indie filmmakers such as Ti West and Jim Mickle. Having just seen him as the backwoods father in Jug Face, I now got to see his latest directorial effort Beneath.

The title in this horror flick, written by Tony Daniel and Brian D. Smith, refers to not only the giant carnivorous fish hiding in the waters of a remote mountain lake, but also the dark sides and secrets that lie hidden within the six youths who it’s chosen as it’s prey. Secrets that surface along with the vicious predator as they fight to survive. And that’s what I liked about this low budget thriller, is that it takes what could have been a typical monster on the loose scenario and uses it as a study of how relationships quickly deteriorate and a group of close friends turn on each other when faced with a fight for their lives.

The story is simple. High school is over and six friends decide to go for a camping/partying trip in the woods across a large remote mountain lake. There have been legends about there being something in Black Lake, but none of them, except for moody Johnny (Daniel Zovatto seen recently in It Follows), pay them any heed. So they head out into the lake in a rowboat and despite Johnny’s warnings to stay out of the water, they go swimming. Soon they realize that the stories are true and they are attacked by a large and very vicious fish that proceeds to kill one of their number, damage the boat and one by one relive them of their oars. The teens find themselves trapped in the middle of the lake with the boat slowly sinking and the fish patiently circling it’s prey. But even more dangerous then the aquatic predator is the threat they pose to each other, as they start to turn on each other and see their compatriots no longer as friends, but as meaty distractions to lure the fish away, while they try to escape. The dark secrets and hidden emotions rise up as they try to decide who stays and who is going over the side. As the day lengthens and their situation grows more dire, they may find themselves in more danger from each other than the creature lurking just outside their boat.

That’s what I liked most about this little flick, is that it really focuses on the breakdown of friendships, civility and morality when the instincts to survive kick in. Fessenden does create a very tense situation in this sinking boat while keeping us reminded of the constant threat outside in the water. The creature is almost always present lurking nearby keeping constant pressure on the youths inside the boat. It’s this pressure that quickly breaks them down and sets them at each others throats just as quickly as the monster waiting outside the boat sets upon those unfortunate enough to find themselves in the murky lake waters.

Helping the director achieve his effectiveness are fairly sturdy performances from his cast including the before mentioned Zovatto as Johnny, Bonnie Dennison as Kitty who is Johnny’s ex and is now dating jock Matt (Chris Conroy), Jonny Orsini as Matt’s brother Simon, Griffin Newman as would be filmmaker Zeke and Mackenzie Rosman as sassy Deb. Rounding out the cast is Mark Margolis as Mr. Parks, an odd neighbor who gives the teens the traditional ominous warnings. None of the cast are perfect, but considering the material’s intensity, they handle it effectively enough.

As for the effects, there is plentiful and well orchestrated gore and Fessenden wisesly chooses to go with a animatronic fish over CGI and while it isn’t the most realistic looking critter ever on film, it is effective enough in appearance and movement and has far more personality and threat then something created digitally. Being that the creature is more of a catalyst for the horrors going on inside the boat, it is more then efficient for it’s purpose.

The film is not perfect. There is some weak dialog that sticks out here and there. The teens turn on each other and come to the conclusion that sacrificing one of their own is a good idea far too quickly, but I can understand for the sake of keeping the story moving as to why the breakdown occurs quicker then you might expect. There are some time lapse shots to indicate that they have been there much longer then the 90 minute running time, but the events still take place over a matter of only a few hours and things do disintegrate rather rapidly, especially considering they have been long-time friends. There is also one character’s fate that I’m not sure totally worked except to move certain story elements along, but for the sake of not ruining anything, I won’t mention details.

Flaws aside, this is an interesting and effective horror that has some intense and disturbing moments and some good old fashion bloodletting, too. I give it a lot of credit for taking what could have been a routine monster movie and turning into a character study of how fear and survival can break down moral barriers even among friends. So I would recommend this to those who like indie horrors and something a little offbeat and outside the box, but to be honest, even if you like your horror a bit more traditional, there is enough of the monster movie elements to make it certainly worth a look. An entertaining and offbeat little horror from a man who has made quite a mark on the indie horror scene.

3 toothy and hungry lake predators!

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: JUG FACE (2013)

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JUG FACE (2013)

Jug Face is a very odd and offbeat low budget horror and while it wasn’t scary or particularly suspenseful, it was unsettling, effective and original. So, as someone who supports and is a big fan of low budget indie horror, especially something unusual and off the beaten path, I did like this little movie for it’s unique and atmospheric tale.

The Tennessee filmed story takes place in a remote little backwoods community that is presided over by a supernatural force/being that resides in a large sinkhole in the woods nearby. It watches over the village and heals their ills and in return requires an occasional sacrifice. Those who are chosen are selected through an eccentric potter named Dawai (Sean Bridges) who enters a trance-like state and creates a ceramic jug with a village resident’s likeness. That villager is then taken to the pit and offered up as sacrifice. Enter teen Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) who has two secrets that she is keeping from her parents (indie horror fixture Larry Fessenden and Blade Runner’s Sean Young). One, she’s been having sex with her brother Jessaby (Daniel Manche) and is pregnant…and two, Dawai, who is smitten with Ada, has sculpted a jug with her likeness and she found and hid it before he came out of the pit induced trance. Denied a sacrifice, the thing in the pit is taking out it’s displeasure on village residents in gruesome fashion and Ada must decide what matters more, her own life and that of her unborn child, or the lives of the village members who are paying the price of her deception. Worse still, the entity in the pit forces her to envision the violent and painful death it exacts on each of it’s victims.

Writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle gives his off-beat little horror some nice atmosphere and a sense of foreboding and wisely works within the confines of his low budget and gives it a charming aura of being set in it’s own little backwoods world. We rarely leave the little community except for a few short instances where the characters go into the city to sell moonshine, which is their trade. And doing so, it makes us more accepting of the possibility that this place and it’s supernatural resident could exist deep in the woods in rural America somewhere apart from what we consider the real world. As stated, the film is never really scary or suspenseful and once the credits roll, we realize that there are no big revelations or dramatic conclusions, but it is a small tale that only breaks out of it’s subtle telling for some startling splashes of blood and gore when our creature of the pit vents it’s wrath. Kinkle does use his subtle style to his advantage as when he needs to shock us with spurting blood or flying limbs…which are effectively portrayed…it works because we are not ready for it. As for Kinkle’s sinkhole inhabitant, we never fully see it, but it is given menace and and it’s presence can be felt through the behavior and strong beliefs of the characters, giving it far more life then some cold digital effect might have. Jug Face is refreshingly old school and it works.

The director also gets good work out of his cast with the pretty Carter successfully carrying a lot on her shoulders and Bridgers creating a likable and somewhat sad man in Dawai, who doesn’t really want to be the one through which the creature selects it’s offerings, but does what he is asked to do regardless. Fessenden and Young also create a portrait of simple people with simple ways and a very strong belief in the traditions of their life centered around the pit and that adherence to it’s ways transcends individuality or family, for the greater good. And that also seems to be a theme running subtly beneath Kinkle’s chilling story, the question of whether following tradition or rebelling against it is a good thing or bad thing and we are left to draw our own conclusions as either seems to bring consequence.

Jug Face is an interesting and effective little movie that will not appeal to everyone, especially those who prefer their horror more traditional, but you have to give Kinkle and crew points for making something original and outside the box, as well as, making a film effectively within their means and with a more down to earth style in an age where filmmakers are far too eager to pull out the digital toys. It’s an interesting and odd little horror and if off the beaten path is where you prefer your horror to take you, then you might want to give this little flick a try. Chad Crawford Kinkle may prove to be a filmmaker to keep an eye on.

3 jugs.

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