Below (2002)
Below (2002)

Genre: Supernatural Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.

Release Date: October 18th, 2002 MPAA Rating: R

Director: David Twohy Actors: Bruce Greenwood, Holt McCallany, Olivia Williams, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Chinlund, Scott Foley, Andrew Howard, Jonathan Hartman, Jason Flemyng, Zach Galifianakis

 


 

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tranded lifeboats are spotted by a passing plane, which alerts the submarine USS Tiger Shark, sailing for seven weeks now through the Atlantic Ocean in August of 1943. Lieutenant Loomis (Holt McCallany) wants to know who they’re supposed to be rescuing, but commanding officer Lieutenant Brice (Bruce Greenwood) assures him that the operation is not a request. As it turns out, they pick up three Brits from the sunken Fort James hospital ship, having recently left North Africa – just in the nick of time, as an enemy vessel appears on the periscope. Kingsley (Dexter Fletcher) is from the British navy; Bernard Schillings (Jonathan Hartman) is an injured patient; and Claire Page (Olivia Williams) is a medic, whose presence causes quite a stir among the all-male crew.

Ensign Odell (Matt Davis) isn’t buying the story of a U-boat having attacked Kingsley’s ship, especially since the damage isn’t consistent with wartime maneuvers. And Claire’s patient is harboring a secret of his own. But after a tense incident with explosives, and a prank with a corpse (seemingly conducted by Stumbo [Jason Flemyng]), the crew becomes nervous and on-edge; there’s some bad hoodoo on this boat.

“Men do strange things under duress.” The setting is claustrophobic, dimly lit (but still looking sharp), and humid, which makes for the perfect environment for unraveling psyches, flaring tempers, and otherworldly chills. Paranoia takes hold, aided by a series of effective – though predictable – jump scares, infecting a tight-knit company of typically tough soldiers. Submarines and other isolated vessels are naturally unnerving, combining their narrow corridors and low ceilings with the prevailing notion of inescapability. And when water starts gushing in through depth-charge damage caused by a German boat attempting to locate the Tiger Shark, their confined spaces shrink even more.

“A submarine isn’t a good place to keep secrets.” Like “The Abyss,” all sorts of realistic predicaments arise, forcing the sailors to navigate through treacherous territories, plummet and rise to avoid attacks, seal off flooded compartments, and even free-dive outside the vessel. They must also contend with manta rays, mirroring a scene from director David Twohy’s previous picture, “Pitch Black.” In addition, there are supernatural scares aplenty, spanning from faulty lights, to ghostly visions, to morse code from beyond the grave, to screams piercing through the darkness, to the boat seemingly steering itself. When a phonograph starts blaring Benny Goodman on its own, the film borrows some of the finest elements from “Death Ship,” which followed a comparable plot aboard a haunted ship.

Is it all caused by mechanical malfunctions? Or manifested guilty consciences? Or oxygen deprivation? Or, as “Weird” Wallace (Zach Galifianakis) suggests, could they all be dead already, just unaware that their spirits are still trying to sort out the mission? As the film progresses, the frights become more carefully crafted and the story smarter; brief bits of gore and dead bodies still pop up, but “Below” is more interested in building a creepy atmosphere and a sensational sense of dread. A mystery is also afoot (relying far too heavily on flashbacks), to impart purpose to the haunting, but it’s the general mood that is most compelling. And while the climax may be a touch overdramatic, the ending is entirely fitting.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10