Published at: Sept. 25, 2002, 5:57 a.m. CST by headgeek
October 11th is a movie lover’s day of bliss, unfortunately it is also a day where films that the studios just don’t know what to do with, just begin dumping films they don’t know how to market.
That’s all I can figure.
We’ve got Michael Moore’s brilliant BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE which I’ll be reviewing soon. There’s Tim Blake Nelson’s THE GREY ZONE which I’ve heard sterling recommendations for. New Line’s KNOCKAROUND GUYS which Moriarty seemed to like quite a bit. Roger Avary’s THE RULES OF ATTRACTION hits. Paul Thomas Anderson’s PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE hits. Guy Ritchie’s long discussed Madonna flick SWEPT AWAY remake of that wonderful Italian seventies flick. We’ve also got WHITE OLEANDER, TUCK EVERLASTING and BROWN SUGAR which I know even less about.
Then you have David Twohy’s third film… BELOW. His first film, THE ARRIVAL shocked people as being a very inventive, fun science fiction film starring that lump of matter known as Charlie Sheen… and managed to not suck. Then his second film was the launching pad for a star named Vin Diesel called PITCH BLACK. After that film raked in a goldmine for USA Films, you would think David Twohy would never be sold short again. I mean, after the horror of having the criminally fun PITCH BLACK come thisclose to showing up DIRECT TO VIDEO, then nailing the Number One spot and becoming a cult hit, you’d think his fortunes and respect by the studios would be set…
Ya know, BELOW is hitting in two weeks and the only place I saw the trailer was on AICN’s own servers till we were forced to pull it off due to traffic issues. Of course that was back in February… and after it left our servers it never was seen again. Oh… and it had to be ‘leaked’ to us. There’s no one-sheet. Seen a TV spot? You checked out their super cool website? What, you say you can’t find the site? Yeah, well check out DimensionFilms.Com! Oh, wait, seemingly their server is down too. What The Hell?
So you run over to the usual Trailer sites right… oh, and it isn’t at any of them. Apparently the movie doesn’t exist. It’s a Ghost Movie, like that town in SPIRITED AWAY… just something you’d have to stumble into, because it is a secret so quiet that Dimension doesn’t seem to be pushing for anyone to hear about it.
I decide to see what USA TODAY’s Andy Seiler says the film is about and I read the following:
“BELOW. As if the crew of an American submarine doesn’t have enough problems with Nazis, now they must battle an undersea monster. With Olivia Williams as a nurse. Sounds as if they’ll need one.”
Even their advance blurbs for the film are selling the movie wrong. I mean, you’d think there was an Undersea Monster in this movie if you read that… Right? I mean, do they try to assert that this is a smart period horror suspense action mystery drama that is one of the best genre films we’ll see this year? Is Dimension spending a dime to get people excited about this movie? To tell them that for the first time ever, we’re getting a Submarine movie that isn’t about being a Submarine movie? That it is a haunted house flick, where there is no door to sneak out of? That it combines elements of CAINE MUTINY, Robert Wise’s THE HAUNTING, LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, DAS BOOT and some stuff that I haven’t seen in any of those movies?
There is simply no excuse for this.
This film seems to be suffering CRIMINAL NEGLECT. I mean, at least RULES OF ATTRACTION has had some press. BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE and PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE and THE GREY ZONE have had festival fawnings. SWEPT AWAY has had tabloid ink.
BELOW simply does not exist. Why? Why would a studio make such a great frickin’ film and then just dump it? Sigh… I guess that’s what critics and folks like me and Moriarty are for. To make sure films like THE IRON GIANT and PITCH BLACK and GODS AND MONSTERS and THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE and DAGON don’t fall through the cracks.
When the good ones come, it is our duty to scream loud enough for all of our audiences to hear and respond. THIS IS A GREAT FILM!
Right from the opening frames you’ll know you have a smart visual director telling you the movie. The way he shoots the ocean, the way that glimmer signals from the surface, the way that old prop plane just sneaks barely into frame… There’s just an instant spark of craftsmanship that tells you… THIS IS A GREAT FILM!
When we see Bruce Greenwood and Holt McCallany chatting atop the sub at a crimson red sunset, and the camera swoops to pull away to show us their boat plowing through the Atlantic… You can’t help but just smile.
Now I'm going to be deliberately vague here, because this is a movie that you deserve to let surprise you. Don't read too much, it isn't because of big twists, that's not what this genre film is about, instead... just let Twohy tell you the story. In the theater, you're sitting at his fire and his light is illuminating your faces while he delivers an old Ghost War Story. Reminded me of some of those old STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES comics I have. Like a mixture to FRONTLINE COMBAT and TALES FROM THE CRYPT with the sheer goosebump chills of that ghost encounter that friend told you that night the power went off at home.
One of the aspects of this film that I just love is the nice anonymity of faces we see. Sure I recognize Olivia Williams (sigh, be sure to check her out in THE MAN FROM ELYSIAN FIELDS too!) as the angelic Miss Cross (my heart pitter patters) from RUSHMORE. Then there was Bruce Greenwood (you know, from FIRST BLOOD) and Holt McCallany (FIGHT CLUB) and my fave Dexter Fletcher (Baby Face from BUGSY MALONE!!!) The main thing is you’ll know the faces, but not from a billion things. They’re passively half remembered faces that you share fond thoughts for. And the guys I don’t know like the bearded fellow (Zach Galifianakis) that’s reading old horror pulps and collects Cracker Jack prizes as totems of superstition… I love.
When they pull Olivia Williams and Dexter Fletcher aboard the ship you get a taste of the dialogue treat you are in for. As word spreads throughout the ship that there’s a skirt on board, as it starts from the bow and heads to the stern you see how quickly word spreads on a submarine, how colorful the language of 1943 is (something often missing from modern WWII films that I love about the real WWII films from the period) and lastly how textured this submarine is. It isn’t one big drab glob of paint where everything is the same color. This is the U.S.S. TIGER SHARK and it is an old school Diesel powered American Sub with brass looking doors that clang and open, giving it a bit of that CRAFTED feel from the era. There’s the pictures and pin-ups… The guys are shooting the shit and they’re real people that have conversations about things other than just ship duties. Something I was dying to see in K-19 this summer. Something humanizing for the crew.
The scene of my bearded buddy (Zach Galifianakis) aboard reading from, I believe an old WEIRD TALES to his fellow crew members is great. The pecking order of getting each other’s gander up. Just great stuff.
This movie takes the time to invest us in the characters, while also thrusting them into danger and creeps. Now the first attack they go through in this film uses the standard Depth Charge fear and dread, run silent, run deep tactics of submarine filming… But they did something to the guys in the Sub during and as a result of the depth charges going off that just dropped my jaw. It was a moment so obviously perfect, that the second you saw it, you realized every other film that ever showed depth charges attacking a sub… GOT IT WRONG, BECAUSE THIS IS HOW IT WOULD BE! I won’t spoil it, but when you see it, you’re jaw will drop and “Holy Shit!” will probably escape your mouth… it did mine.
Every aspect of this film is sharp as can be. Easily my favorite horror genre film I’ve seen this year. The movie scares, creeps and chills. It messes with your mind, your perceptions and your nerves. Whether or not this is a Haunted House movie or just the worst set of screwed up circumstances ever will be up to you, but frankly I like to think of this as a Haunted House movie… As such, it is one of the very best because the one problem with haunted house movies is why don’t they just leave the house…
Here, outside the ship is as scary if not worse. They are being hunted by the Nazis, who are throwing every single anti-sub tactic in the book at them. Several, that fans of historical Sub and Anti-Sub warfare will just get giddy and do butt bounces in their seat during.
When 4 of the crew have to don underwater gear to repair something outside of the sub… WOW. This is just everything I’ve ever wanted to see in a submarine movie, but never got to see. AND… It is a haunted house film at the same time. With tons of twists and layers. In a regular sub movie, the sounds of the hull creaking and the creatures making noises are cool… sometimes even tense… but when you add the layer that it could be something SUPERNATURAL… Every hull movement and every whale song becomes something otherworldly.
Dexter Fletcher (Soap from LOCK STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELLS “Guns for show, knives for a pro.” You know!) is wonderful as the British navigator that gets pulled aboard with Olivia Williams. He’s just got so much character in that face.
A real stand out in the film though is Holt McCallany as Lt Loomis… He’s a hulkingly intimidating guy that is a real no nonsense sort of guy. Completely believable in the era and the lingo, his penchant for playing with that wooden yo-yo was a great detail, and shows the human way to handling his nerves while getting on others.
As for the tension of the film, this movie is just a richly produced handsome completely successful and thoroughly entertaining horror-suspense war action film. The writing by Lucas Sussman, Darren Aronofsky and David Twohy really pays off as this film isn’t about twists or just a momentary gag, but a sustained level of tension and suspense.
The film is about putting them in a bad situation from the get go and layer by layer peeling away each and every security they have. The crew begins to not trust not only one another, but themselves… as the Hydrogen level increases in the submarine, fears of delusions and tricks of the mind permeate every single character.
The fact is, this is the best horror film to come out of Dimension Films, (THE OTHERS was a Miramax film) and the concept that it is just being dumped is beyond horrible. In fact, I just looked over Dimension’s entire history of films on IMDB, this is easily the best film that production arm has produced. It has characters you care about, thrills and fears that are earned, genuine jumps, great inventive action, superior FX and Make-up, horrifying deaths and they are not doing a damn thing to support its release thus far. Here they have their best most complete Genre effort and they don’t know what to do with it.
Well folks, I’m telling you, as Moriarty told you… SEE THIS MOVIE! This is Twohy’s best film to date, and watching this got me shaking to see what he’s going to be doing with THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK series at Universal.
But for now, now we have a really wonderful film for this October. God this movie kicked my ass!