Dir. Ben Ketai
Others: The Descent, that episode of Scooby Doo with the miner ghost
Links: Beneath - IFC Midnight
OK, alright, Al Gore’s getting way sneakier with age. I didn’t see your name on the credits, Mr. Ex-Vice President, but I can tell when you’re shifting tactics to get the kids in on the crusade. An Inconvenient Truth was thoughtful and incisive and everything, but when we get down to brass tacks here, it was a documentary, and documentaries aren’t what Bobby Teenager is half-watching while fingerblasting his girlfriend. You needed kids to understand global warming is a monster, I get it. Let’s play some association here, a little film-concept badminton: kids like monsters, coal is a monstrously destructive force on the environment… HORROR MOVIE IN A COAL MINE!!! You’ve done it again, and I have no idea how you mustered the energy after that cameo on 30 Rock six years ago.
Anyway, Beneath is director Ben Ketai’s rookie offering to cinema, starring Jeff Fahey (Lawnmower Man), Joey Kern (dipshit blonde stoner in the beginning of Super Troopers, who saw that coming?), and Kelly Noonan (10 Years, whatever that is). Inspired by true events in the same way that guy in The Blindside is inspired by Sandra Bullock, Beneath follows a group of roughneck coal miners on team-favorite George Marsh’s (Fahey) last day when he haphazardly decides to have his daughter along — who for some reason felt compelled to fly from NYC for what-the-fuck-ever reason to hang with the gang. Machinery and psyches inevitably go awry in the ensuing hour and 20 minutes, as the gang is trapped — not only with their fragile minds and toxic air, but also with a strange, malevolent force unleashed by a giant-ass rock cutter. [Author’s note: Like every single description of this movie used “toxic air,” whatever. Also I hate the phrase “strange, malevolent force”: I’m just going refer to it as “Manbearpig” from now on.]
So the mine collapses, calamity ensues, and the above-ground team radios to let them know they can’t get down there for at least 72 hours while the team huddles in an emergency bunker. This would be slightly interesting if the characters were interesting or worth investing my fictional partiality into. The experience feels like slightly updated 80s archetypes shot with a REDcam. There’s the delicate but determined daughter (Noonan), the affable, hometown unrequited love interest (Kern. Sidebar: all I pined for the entire time was to watch him die and imagine it was the Super Troopers guy), the hardass with a heart of gold who’s also kind of a misogynist (Eric Etebari of 2 Fast 2 Furious as Masek), and so on. It doesn’t matter: when Manbearpig is released and the narrative tries to make you unsure if the supernatural Manbearpig or just the onset of psychosis and paranoia is to blame, blood and viscera splay all about while people scream. This felt like a Tuesday afternoon at the production office.
I’m writing a little mercilessly, but Beneath isn’t without at least a little change in the pocket. The film works best in director Ketai’s spatial and aural manipulation while taking you through the collapsed cave (actually a set built above ground, which is kind of impressive). The rough textures of hewn rock and the industrial grate of steel against stone bring you out of a place of comfort into somewhere primal, mean, and anxious. The camera is almost constantly in medium-close to close frame of the actors, their smeared, sweaty faces hovering around each other and the encroaching walls of a collapsed shaft. The word “claustrophobia” gets bandied about a lot, but in reality anyone with claustrophobia would do best to not see this movie. I guess there Ketai and company have a small triumph.
Caves are scary as shit. The underground is scary as shit. We intuitively understand this as human beings, and unfortunately film executives are also human beings. Hence, this genre is so beat you’d have to perform the script writing equivalent of an EGOT to inject any life into the genre. Beneath isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s far from remarkable. You gave it your best shot, Al Gore. Why not make the next one about a haunted solar windmill farm? That would be excelsior.