J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Dark Below: Serial Killer on Ice

It could be considered the psycho-horror version of the Ray Milland Cold War thriller, The Thief. There is virtually no dialogue to be heard throughout the film, but frankly, there really isn’t much left for Rachel and her serial killer husband Ben to say. She is rather disappointed he turned out to be a murderer and he is rather disappointed she deduced the truth. Consequently, he tries to consign her to a watery grave in Douglas Schulze’s The Dark Below (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in Phoenix.

As we learn from flashbacks, Ben swept Rachel off her feet when she enrolled in his scuba class. With his help, she became an accomplished extreme diver in her own right. She in turn helped him open his scuba shop. However, she starts suspecting something is off when the cops repeatedly come asking for information on missing customers—all of whom are women. Unfortunately, Ben soon knows that she knows, so he drugs her and crams her pliable body into her wetsuit, hoping to stage a diving accident in the frozen lake. She might go quietly, but she won’t give up without a fight.

Man, you can just feel the frostbite while watching Dark Below. Admittedly, the dialogue-free approach is a gimmick, but it works rather well. An over-orchestrated score can be heard throughout the film, presumably to fill the silence, but the film would have been better served by more hauntingly minimalist themes. (Frankly, only a blustering ham like Meryl Streep could approve of the way these cues crash down on the audience’s ears)

One thing is beyond debate—nobody can fault Lauren Mae Shafer for her relentlessly committed, harrowingly physical performance as Rachel. You shiver and wince along with her as she suffers from exposure, oxygen deprivation, and straight-up battery. Veronica Cartwright is also quietly (by necessity) powerful, as Rachel’s mother, an unusually intuitive horror movie mom. At first, David G.B. Brown looks a little too soft to be a hardcore serial killer, but that makes it even more disturbing when he flips on the psychopathic switch.

Having sat through some awkward dialogue that did no favors to genre films with potential, Dark Below might really be onto something here. Call it a stunt, but it certainly forced Schulze to refine his narrative down to its essence. As a result, the film is all muscle and no fat. Recommended for horror and thriller fans who dig something a little outside the predictable category parameters, The Dark Below opens tomorrow (3/24) in Phoenix, at the Arizona Mills 25.

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