Beneath The Darkness
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Beneath The Darkness

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If you pay careful attention you can glean a lot about a movie from the marketing campaign. Of course you have to disregard and overly glowing adjectives or accolades. If a trailer boasts of its similarities to another movie take into consideration the consensus of the film. In the case of ‘Beneath the Darkness’ the claim was it was in the tradition of ‘Disturbia’. I have wonder if anyone in the marketing firm the producers hired realized that ‘Disturbia’ was a diluted, teen centric copy of the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece, ‘Rear Window’. At least they didn’t allude to that classic film; that would have been blasphemous. The similarities between ‘Disturbia’ and ‘Beneath the Darkness’ are basically limited to there are teens that like to peek into neighbors windows and they are certain they have just seem a criminal act. Never mind in many jurisdictions they were committing a Class-1 misdemeanor although this is frequently aggravated to trespass and breaking and entry which usually raise the stakes to a felony. Nothing like having the young heroes secure their role model status with the audience by glorifying the commission of a crime instead of, I don’t know calling the proper authorities. Of course that rational course of action would entirely preclude having something to hang a film, not that this kind of flick is typically heavy on the plot. In some respects you could use this as a rainy afternoon popcorn flick although the time would be far better spent with a Hitchcock film if you are in the mood for a thriller. Although the MPAA in all their infinite wisdom decreed this movie to be an ‘R’ there was really not a lot that overtly justifies this rating. This is a positive point since most films in this ilk would overplay the sex, drugs and torture. This movie at least made a modicum of effort to concentrate on a story. The problem happens to be the plot here is a veneer to cover a predicable set of circumstances and characters taken from a central casting description. The movie did have an affable cast that professionally did the best as they could under the conditions constraining them.

Dennis Quaid has been a successful journeyman actor for a lot of years covering a myriad of roles. He wastes no time in establishing the heinous nature of his character here, Ely. We see the neighborhood mortician as he kidnaps a person he knows. Ely take the man out to a secluded location in the grave yard, makes him dig a grave and locks him in a coffin as he proceeds to bury him alive. A couple of salient points to not at this time. First of all burying someone alive is a horrible way to dispatch a person. It has been a fairly common phobia popularized in literature by Edgar Allen Poe was afflicted by taphephobia. This is sufficiently gruesome to make the point that Vaughn Ely is a deeply disturbed individual without resorting to the current torture porn trend. Although the remainder of the script falls apart this was an efficient way of introducing the character and establishing the fundamental premise. We then skip ahead two years were the audience is introduced to a few high school students; Travis (Tony Oller), Brian (Stephen Lunsford), Danny (Devon Werkheiser), and Abby (Aimee Teegarden). Travis and Abby is a couple but they typically hang out with the other guys. After a few scenes to establish a usual high school life, English Lit classes, Shakespeare homework and Abby cheering at the football game. Another plus, albeit a small one, is after school they don’t go off to the woods to party. Instead they go to the funeral home that Ely works to check things out. Travis works for him mowing his lawn providing the impetus for this odd teen distraction. While peeking into the windows they see Ely with what might seem to be unconscious although the true is much worse; Ely is not only a serial killer he is into necrophilia, an overused predilection for movie morticians. Travis and Danny could have gone to the cops but instead they have Abby stand watch while the guys go into the house. Ely catches them and confronts them. As the shocked Travis looks on he tosses Danny down the stairs and just for good measure stomps on his head fatally breaking his neck. As Travis and Abby finally runs off to the police Ely calls ahead to report a break in and request an ambulance. The officer, Sgt. Nickerson (Brett Cullen) believes a solid citizen like Ely over kids that just broke into his home and before the next scene the death is determined to be accidental and dismissed. As a side plot Travis is sure he saw something supernatural in therein the house, a predilection he received as a effect of being traumatized by his older sister’s death when he was seven. The script by first time screenwriter Bruce Wilkinson collapses under its own weight attempting to support too many sub plots. We have a ghost floating around, Ely’s deceased paramour hidden in the attic and Travis and Abby periodically taking a hiatus from the terror to swap spit.

For director Martin Guigui this movie is a step up from ‘Cattle Call’ but that isn’t difficult. The style he manifests here is straightforward and solid enough but is not up to the challenge of overcoming the short comings of the story. There are a few red herrings but what he should have concentrated on was helping his cast breathe a little life into their characters. They all come across as two dimensional caricatures. Quaid throws himself into chewing the scenery leaving no room for nuances to his performance of character development. Teegarden is very pretty a competent for the role but at twenty two she needs to start working with her management to explore parts outside her teen queen comfort zone. She does appear to be trying to branch out to scream queen but that will do little to expand her abilities or career.

Posted 02/23/12

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