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Stanley Film Fest 2013 Review: ‘Beneath’ Is What Happens When Indie Directors Have Bills to Pay

By  · Published on May 4th, 2013

There’s a certain point in Larry Fessenden’s new film, Beneath, that sees it move from being one of the year’s dumbest films to one of the most hilarious.

I don’t believe either of those accomplishments is intentional.

Boat goes in the water. Six friends go in the water. Big fish is in the water. Fessenden’s fish.

Needless to say, the giant googly-eyed fish eats well.

Johnny has spent the last four years as a Johnny Depp-impersonator, but when high school comes to an end he’s forced to put up or shut up with the girl that never was that got away. Her name is Kitty, because that’s a real thing, and while Johnny’s not-so-secretly in love with her she’s actually already hitched her wagon to a jock named Matt whose brother Simon also has a thing for her. Not to be outdone, petite and perky Deb is along for the ride too and still pining for Kitty after a brief summer-camp scissoring they shared freshman year. Last and least is a glasses-wearing nerd named Zeke who’s obsessed with filming the world on his not at all clunky wrist-cam. Inexplicably, he’s the only one not interested in Kitty.

The six are celebrating graduation and decide to boat across a magical lake of constantly changing dimen – sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. They head out for a party, but their tepid shenanigans are interrupted by a lackadaisical and large prehistoric perch with eight teeth and a sense of humor. The scaly behemoth in name only mortally wounds one of the six before proceeding to eat everything they put in the water in an attempt to paddle back to shore.

It’s at this point where I feel compelled to point out that not only is the shore all around them, but that it never appears to be more than thirty to forty yards away. The group spends much of the film paddling yet somehow seem to always do so in the opposite direction from the nearest shoreline. The real enemy it seems, is a lack of depth perception.

Lest you think this is actually part of the story, know that the lake isn’t actually changing shape or size. Instead the script and camerawork have simply aligned in their amateurish reach to present the rowboat the same distance from shore at all times. The boat is moving, it’s just that they never seem to get anywhere.

The group quickly descends into squabbling, jealousy and murder, but while this is meant to show that the real dangers lurk beneath their surface, not the lake’s, it instead unleashes a near constant stream of annoyance, frustration and unintentional laughter. While those first two grow old real quick, it’s the laughs that make the film watchable. Kind of.

The frustrations come fast and frequent with dialogue and behaviors that would make sense under no circumstance, let alone one where survival is at stake. Characters laugh and crack jokes even after their friends have died. They continually put themselves and the others in more danger through nonsensical schemes. And they’re consistently outwitted and beaten by a fish that at every turn looks like a lonely child waddling after the short bus.

Beneath is a bad movie that will have you suspecting a big, knowing wink is just around the corner. Something to let you know that Fessenden and friends are in on the joke. Something to confirm for you that there’s no way a movie could be this intentionally bad. Something to explain how the director of the creepy and methodically-paced The Last Winter could sign off on this floating dung heap. But that moment never comes. The film maintains its deadly serious facade right into the end credits.

A better version of this tale can be found in Creepshow 2’s “The Raft” segment, where the teens are trapped on a mid-lake raft secured to the bottom. So go watch that instead… Then maybe give this one a shot afterwards if you’re still in the mood for some chuckles.

The Upside: The fish is a real comedian; some unintentional laughs

The Downside: There’s really nothing but downside; seriously, every single element here is done incompetently including direction, writing, editing, acting, score, spatial awareness and catering (probably)

On the Side: Fessenden apparently approached the Chiller network with various pitches but was handed this giant fish script instead. He then read it and said yes. For some reason.

Grade: D-

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.