When the opening titles to the new horror/thriller Beneath inform that the following is inspired by true events, it doesn’t take long to realize it’s really twaddle. Obviously, some miners at some time were trapped somewhere six hundred feet below ground, but that’s as far as a true event gets. Once everyone way below wearing a hard hat starts resembling white-eyed zombies intending to kill then you know reality is not exactly what they’re going for.
There’s a strong enough beginning with a sense of urgency that indicates something terrible has already happened under the earth. A team of rescuers dig their way through a mine looking for survivors of a terrible underground accident when a voice suddenly declares, “We got a survivor!” Then the titles cut to Four Days Earlier. It’s an opening technique favored mostly by television telling us within minutes that a) something dreadful has occurred; b) there’s someone left, though we don’t know who; and c) we’re now going to backtrack and live through those four days until we find out what happened down there.
Kelly Noonan plays Sam, an environmental lawyer who takes her father’s challenge to go with him down the mine along with his other team of miners in order to experience the kind of day to day life that has paid for her education. Jeff Fahey plays her father and it’s his last day of work before retirement.
“Say goodbye to the daylight,” dad tells his daughter as everyone enters the beckoning mine, little realizing that it’s going to be the last time most on his team are going to see the sun. Once down there, six hundred feet below ground, something goes wrong. A drill hits a hole, there’s an explosion, part of the mine collapses, and the miners’ world comes tumbling down.
Quickly assessing the damage, a miner spells out what’s happened. “Three dead, five or six missing,” he states. Sam is understandably distraught but she’s assured of the rescue procedures. There’s an underground emergency shelter with limited power, food, water and breathable air known as the Condo where the remaining miners can huddle until help eventually comes, however long that may take. It’s what happens next, outside of that metal underground container that takes up the rest of the film and it’s also there where everything starts to get murky.
A distant scream from somewhere outside puts everyone on edge. Then there’s blood on the side of the container. Then the outside lines to the air tanks are cut. Someone, or maybe something wants to get those miners out of that container, but we don’t know what. With the lack of enough oxygen serving the miners, you’re never quite sure if what’s happening is the result of something truly supernatural or the fevered imagination of a mind suffering hallucinations.
Sporadically the film hits the mark. Some scenes are played in darkness with only ominous sounds to indicate what might be happening out there. There’s also an effective sense of claustrophobia occasionally evoking the spirit of the superior The Descent plus a moment with Fahey caught in a cramped tunnel reminiscent of that moment in Alien when Tom Skerritt can neither move forward nor backward without becoming a victim of that thing.
But whatever tension is built by these random moments of efficient, atmospheric thrills falls apart by a simple enough setup that loses its grip. Wondering whether those white-eyed, fright masked zombies are real or in Sam’s imagination isn’t half as much fun as a straight-forward horror thriller of miners trapped underground and being dispensed, one by one by an awakened, underground evil. Making events intentionally vague doesn’t work, and neither does pretending it’s all based on true events.
MPAA Rating: Unrated Length: 89 Minutes Overall Rating: 5 (out of 10)