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Below (*****) I know what you're thinking. A "B" picture about a haunted
submarine? And I think it's the best flick I've seen so far this year?
Well, when a "B" picture is this smart, this intricate, this well-made, this
damned entertaining, then, yeah, it's the best movie I've seen so far this
Here's the set-up: it's 1943 in the North Atlantic, and the U.S.S. Tiger Shark picks up three survivors from a British hospital ship that was torpedoed two days earlier; the discovery that one of the survivors is a German leads to violence; and, then, really weird things start happening, all the while a German cruiser is chasing the sub down. Is a ghost trying to destroy the sub and its crew, or are they just imagining things through convenient coincidences?
Below was written by Lucas Sussman, Darren Aronofsky and the film's director, David N. Twohy; Aronofsky is the smart filmmaker behind the art-house hit Requiem for a Dream, and Twohy has consistently specialized in sophisticated "B" pictures like The Arrival and Pitch Black. Below offers up an intricate storyline that keeps both the characters and the audience guessing--when they and we aren't jumping out of our skins in terror. Twohy's direction is an example of economic brilliance--the flick charges forward, piling on the twists and scares methodically, but never gratuitously--thankfully, this is a horror flick that's more about mood than about gore--indeed, it's less in tune with modern splatterfests than it is an homage to the cerebral Val Lewton thrillers of the 1940s (like The Seventh Victim or Isle of the Dead).
And what mood this movie creates! Ian Wilson's cinematography is vibrant and chilling, and the magnificent special effects never overwhelm the story--except for a final, hauntingly beautiful shot that will linger in your memory for quite awhile.
An added bonus is the cast of smart players: Bruce Greenwood as the sub commander trying to hold his crew and himself together; Matt Davis as the wet-behind-the-ears officer not really accepted by the crew; Olivia Williams as an English nurse who is both suspect and suspicious; and Holt McCallaney as a gruff officer.
It appears that Below is being dumped by its studio, Dimension, with little advertising or fanfare; a shame, really, since it's one of the most sophisticated and highest quality pictures I've seen in quite awhile. [Rated R: Violence, language, brief nudity.]
Periodically I go through fits where I'm convinced that the American public
is losing the capacity for thought in entertainment; that 99% of the
movie-going public has reached the point where every smallest nuance must be
telegraphed as loudly and as blatantly as possible, and any intelligent
content must be simplified so it's comprehensible to the lowest common
Below is not like that.
This is a movie that simultaneously gives one hope (that something this stylish and subtle could be made in 2002), and despair (that the studio has shown so little faith in it that they've cast it adrift without any advertising or backing). Why this hasn't received even one quarter of the attention of Ghost Ship I can't fathom--if you have a choice, go see Below instead.
If you like beautifully photographed, well-thought-out eerie psychological horror films that don't tie everything up in a nice pretty package of explanations in the final shots, and are willing to give the relatively unknown but excellent cast a shot, then by all means hunt this one down.
9 out of 10
This film has its share of fans, and I wanted to chime in.
I thought its visual effects were beautiful and functional throughout--this is a ghost movie, but the ghost effects are subtle, and never stoop to goofy atmospherics. Indeed, the ghost images are only a very small portion of the visual effects platter on display. Most of the wonderful miniatures and digital constructions concern themselves with the reality of the submarine and its adventures. And these numerous shots feature very little showing off--like the very best effects, they are tools to transmit the story, first and foremost. This rigid adhesion to story is visible all around, and it's very clear that cast and crew were solidly focused.
"Below" is a basic ghost mystery story (who is the ghost and what does it want), a type of film that is seldom done nowadays. A good number of these have been done over the years, certainly, and so the subject matter is familiar, but the story details/mechanics of "Below" present it all in a fresh manner. Lots of business for the actors to work with.
It's intricate, and demands attention from its viewers, and this is rewarded by what I think is a very watchable and entertaining ride, thanks in no small part to its great cast and tight direction. Yes! it's scary, possibly one of the most frightening films I've seen in years. I hesitate to call it a "horror" film, because its audience identification characters do their best to see that justice prevails, and eventually they pull the audience out of this hellish experience. This optimism gives the film a quality of fairy-tale parable. But it is certainly a white-knuckle suspense thriller.
This was only playing at one cinema in my area (off my usual track) and
I saw it listed in the paper I thought "Wait, how did I miss that?" But
was rated R (always a plus for me; for one thing, an R rating means the
F-word gets used at least twice, so it'll have at least that much realism)
and I had read somewhere (probably on IMDB) that it was about submarines,
I thought I'd take a crack at it. My venture was well
Set during World War II, an American submarine rescues 3 people on a liferaft, one of whom turns out to be a woman, news of which galvanizes the sub's crew, who seem to know every female slang term ("Brillo pad" was new to me). The movie pays tribute to the German "Das Boot," the best submarine flick ever, as the camera goes darting from one passageway to another as the crewmen are introduced. Then some odd things start occurring.
Helping to win me over was the sheer copiousness of period detail with all the 1940s technology used by the crew to run their boat plus their cigarettes, girlie pin-ups, phonograph records, a Yo-Yo, etc. The actors all rang true except for the young idealistic guy. Lots of great claustrophobic atmosphere; limited but effective use of a certain kind of special effect. One needs to pay attention, such as the mirror scene, where you might think "Is that image duplicating what the guy is doing, or not?" Slow but steady heightening of tension and development of otherwordly aspects. Delightful underwater renditions with plankton & manta rays cavorting. Some drawbacks: too much use of flashbacks, some of which may be "false" (Hitchcock used a false flashback once & always regretted it); too much action occurring off-screen, to where it calls attention to itself. There's a central flashback issue that seems to call for an awful lot of expository dialogue, some of which occurs when one would suppose the characters would be engaged with more pressing matters, such as running out of air.
Given how many other recent movies have cost a lot more money, been given much more ballyhoo but have had much weaker plot, characterization and atmosphere, it seems a shame "Below" must rely entirely on word of mouth, or keyboard. I won't claim I was on the "edge of my seat" throughout but I definitely "bought into" the situation. There's a really lovely closing shot, like a shorter & underwater "Koyaanisqatsi," that no one should find overly corny or contrived.
Bottom line: if you can't find this one in a cinema or reach it before it goes away, keep an eye out for video. The studio made a mistake just blowing the movie off, it deserves better.
In one scene we see a seaman with pet fish in a tank, a nice ironic touch.
If you have seen your share of genre-movies, there will in this movie
be an idea that you have not seen, a cut that has not been there already
a character that is completely new - but it´s the mix that counts and this
mix came out very right.
If you are on the edge of your seat, you know what is going to happen but nothing has been shown in the first half of the movie and the suspense just keeps on building, I for one know that I am going to enjoy it to the last second.
Oh, and another thing - although there is only 1 woman in the movie, she is neither token, nor does she fall in love or is killed in the classic shower scene, but she actually is given a role to play - bravo. The only little thorn I can think of is, that I could have done without the very few gory (or at least bloodyish) scenes - was not really necessary. A silouette and some shocked expressions do suffice. Go and watch - not a cheap thrill, a good one.
I enjoyed 'Below' a LOT more than I anticipated. It's a very similar movie in theme to the disappointing 'The Bunker', apart from the obvious difference of being set on a submarine of course. But unlike 'The Bunker' this movie has interesting characters that a)you can tell apart, and b) actually care about their fate. The script, direction and acting are all superior, and it's very effective in conveying the tense atmosphere of a sub in WW2, despite not being made on a mega-budget. I like David Twohy's debut 'Pitch Black', and I like 'Below' even more. It's not only a very well made suspense movie, but also a good war one. I hope Twohy fulfills his promise in projects to come.
Interesting mix of a ghost story, WWII submarine thriller and murder mystery, with a topnotch cast headed by Olivia Williams as a nurse rescued from a torpedoed hospital ship and Bruce Greenwood as a submarine commander with a secret. Must have been a U.S.-U.K. coproduction, since much of the cast is made up of Brits playing Americans, but what the hey. It's a solid production through-and-through. Came out at the same time as the much-ballyhooed GHOST SHIP, with little or no marketing, and thus was overlooked in theaters. A must-see for thriller fans.
Sci-Fi escape drama that will have you on the edge of your seat and cracking your knuckles. When a WWII submarine picks up three survivors of an incident in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in 1943, the crew suddenly experiences mysterious doings in the confined space. It appears this boat is doomed from the start. Typical problems for a submarine movie. Pretty good acting from a diverse cast that includes: Bruce Greenwood, Matt Davis, Olivia Williams, Scott Foley and Holt McCallany. Decent enough F/X and sometimes scary story line holds your interest.
I will start with my only criticism - that of the genre change half-way from wartime thriller to ghost story I found a bit much as we were all expecting one of the characters to turn out as a German saboteur. The cinematography by Ian Wilson was excellent and was combined well with the CGI work (the underwater sub looked so real), the above-water sub being done in the 007 tank at Pinewood. Along with Ian Wilson for cinematography, I personally would also nominate it for a BAFTA (of which I am a member) in both Sound and Editing categories, if it was submitted, the latter being particularly slick. We (about 50 of us, including many BSC members) leapt out of our seats at certain points. You were really there, suffering with the crew. It is only tragic that because the bosses would prefer to change it into a horror movie that it will never be released in the UK, so sadly Brits will never see one of the great British films, although the Union flag shown in the end shot should have been a Red Ensign, but then nothing is perfect!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Below was another one of those films that has been 'abandoned' by the studio
created it. It got very little print advertisement and even less exposure on
trailers than most "fluff" horror that usually litters the
Below has a cast of "I know that guy but I can't remember where I saw him before" types. They all turn in good performances but the lead, Bruce Greenwood, is a bit weak and reminds me of a poor-man's Rod Serling throughout the film. If he had shown a bit more emotion (or enthusiasm) this film may well have ranked among the better thriller/horror movies of the year.
The movie concerns a US sub during World War 2, the U.S.S. Tigershark, that is ordered to go pick up some survivors of a torpedoed hospital ship. Upon their arrival, there are only three survivors left. A woman and two men. If you know anything about naval lore, women on submarines is bad luck and upon the taking on of the survivors, strange things start occurring on the sub.
This film is directed by David Twohy, the same guy who directed Pitch Black. The directing is quite similar and makes for a fairly effective ghost story. The
claustrophobic nature of a submarine works rather well but is largely underused here. The strongest aspect of this film is that when it is over, you can honestly argue that there was an actual ghost or that everything that transpired was only in the minds of the people involved. This is a very impressive feat to be able to effectively pull off in this kind of film. The special effects are subtle and brief but effective at conveying what they are there to convey. There is also an alleged 'twist ending' that will become unfortunately obvious to any fan of the genre within the first twenty minutes.
No nudity. No drugs. Very little harsh language. A little bit of on-screen violence. A few charred or bloody corpses are shown to 'enhance the mood' as it were. I believe the film was rated R but it should have been PG. There is very little in this film beyond the subject matter to justify anything stronger than a PG-13. Lots of frights and more than a few 'cheap jolts'.
As I write this review, Below is already being phased out of theatres. I would encourage fans of psychological horror to catch this one on the big screen rather than wait for DVD if they want to see it. It's a lot more effective as a 'fright film' in a darkened theatre than it will be on a television screen.
If you like psychological horror, then try & catch this one before it leaves the theatres. It is a solid effort, but by no means a classic. It's very much shows the
international-influence in the horror genre though (and shows many similarities to The Ring and even moreso to The Devil's Backbone).
If you are a casual horror fan, you may still enjoy this one quite a bit. Those that don't like scary movies need not enter. At it's heart, Below is simply a tale of revenge from beyond the grave... or its it?
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