REVIEW: The Dark Below
– By Kriss Pickering
As a long term horror fan, one of the things I long for is a film that is truly original. I don’t know about anyone else, but although I love the idea of masked killers stalking annoying teenagers, sometimes I just want something different to sink my teeth into. So when I heard the concept for Douglas Schulze’s low budget thriller The Dark Below I couldn’t wait to see what it brought to the table!
On the surface (pun intended), the premise really is intriguing. Both co-written and directed by Schulze, The Dark Below tells of the ordeal of Rachel (Lauren Mae Shafer), a young woman who has been attacked and drugged by her diving instructor husband. Her attacker (David G.B. Brown) then proceeds to kit her out in SCUBA gear and dumps her in a frozen lake! To survive, Rachel must fight against the excoriating cold to find a way to escape both the lake and her attacker…
The first thing you notice about this film is the almost complete absence of dialogue. I think if I remember right, there is only a single sentence throughout. In its place, the director Schulze has tried to use the film’s score and some beautiful underwater photography to help tell the story. To start with, this lack of speech was quite an interesting gimmick, but if I’m honest it didn’t take long to start to grate a little. The dialogue is even muted in the flashback scenes telling the characters’ backstory. Personally, this took the gimmick too far, and some dialogue with these scenes would have improved the film no end, as well as making the underwater scenes more claustrophobic.
As mentioned earlier, director Schulze uses a lavish score to drive the plot, and to achieve this he has turned to composer David Bateman. Bateman uses a mix of powerful orchestral pieces along with some modern, almost synthetic effects to layer his score, which can sometimes become too much and overpower what is happening on screen.
The small cast that Schulze put together for the film all put in solid, if unspectacular performances. The two main characters, played by Lauren Mae Shafer and David G.B. Brown, respectively conveyed their characters motives and thoughts well using just their movements, but as I’ve already mentioned, we’re not helped by a sometimes overpowering score. The standout performer though was Alien actress Veronica Cartwright, who played Rachel’s mother in the flash back scenes. She really mastered the role and used subtle body movements that told a million stories…
Unfortunately though, I think where the film really went from an “intriguing premise” to a film that didn’t work was the lack of plot credibility. I’m no expert of SCUBA diving, but I couldn’t stop asking myself questions like ‘wouldn’t the extreme cold damage her eyes?’, or ‘would the air in her tank react differently in such freezing conditions?’. I know when we watch a horror film we are expected to suspend our beliefs a bit, but the lack of dialogue allowed my mind to wonder.
I think to sum things up, The Dark Below was a decent experiment. I was only saying the other day that as dedicated fans of horror we need the genre to throw up something original that goes on to smash the box office. Unfortunately, this isn’t it. If it had just a little more dialogue, and the score tightened up, then it would be a film I recommended to all my horror loving friends. But as it stands, for me anyway, it just doesn’t work. Although, if you are a genre film maker and you are reading this, please don’t stop pushing the envelope and trying new things. You have an army of fans here waiting for the next big thing!