Director Brian Yuzna's underwater/zombie/cannibal/demonic/horror flick Beneath Still Waters wants to cover a lot of ground, but an overly familiar horror subplot waterlogs its potentially interesting framework. At only a 100 minutes, 2005's Beneath Still Waters feels much longer, probably because after the first ten or fifteen minutes, the viewer has the movie down pat, and there's really nothing to ponder or wonder about as far as the mystery goes. Thus, with the suspense out of the way, we're left with only waiting for the next scare, the next gore effect, or the next brief glimpse of nudity.
In northern Spain, in 1965, the town of Marinbad is soon to be flooded by a dam built by Roberto Borgia (Antonio Portillo), the mayor of the town. Two small boys, Teo (Santiago Passaglia) and Luis (Omar Munoz) ignore the warnings posted on the fenced-in town, and break in to play among the abandoned buildings. Following the sounds of screaming people, Teo and Luis see a glowing red light coming from one of the buildings, and against Luis' advice, they go in to help. There, the find several people chained to the floor, with water rapidly coming in through the lower windows. When Teo is commanded by Mordecai Salas (Patrick Gordon) to cut away his bonds, Salas sets upon poor Teo, and rips his head apart to feast on him. Luis runs screaming out into the streets, and the town is seen disappearing under water.
Jumping ahead forty years, good-looking babes Clara Borgia (Charlotte Salt) and Susana (Pilar Soto) are enjoying a day at the beach - a beach created by the drowning of Marinbad a few hundred yards out in the lake. Clara, spooked by the death of her grandfather Roberto Borgia, is reluctant to follow Susana into the water, as well she should be. Susana's boyfriend Antonio, who gets the go-ahead from Susana to take Clara "for a ride" on his jet ski, is ripped apart by something in the water, much to the surprise of the girls. Luckily, Clara's mother, Teresa (Raquel Merono), is nearby, pursuing a story (she's a journalist...and also a babe) about the fortieth anniversary of the Debaria Dam. She meets Dan Quarry (Michael McKell), a photojournalist who's trying to get some underwater shots of the town for a snarky editor who wants a story before she cuts Dan off for good. Earlier, Dan had spotted a strange, glowing red light down below in the town, and went to investigate it. Now, with Teresa's help, he plans on investigating just what's happening in the local town, and why so many people wind up dying out by the lake. Here's an early hint: evidently, the town of Marinbad was evil, and deserved to be drowned.
Hindering Dan's efforts are Police Captain Keller (Carlos Castanon), who confiscates Dan's camera (no diving permit) and Mayor Luca (Richard Borras), who, in the great tradition of Murray Hamilton, just wants all this nasty severed bodies in the lake business to go away before the upcoming 40th anniversary dam bash. Meanwhile, back at the dam, supervisor Julio Gambine (Jose M Pou) is hitting the bottle pretty hard and trying to drown out the voice of his dead wife, who's forcing him to not tell his supervisor that there are huge, leaking cracks in the dam. Rounding out all this brouhaha is Clara's friend Susana, who keeps popping up, crying about never having the chance to tell Antonio that she loved him (relax, Susana - you'll get your chance soon enough), as well as Clara's efforts to dodge Mordecai, who wants to take Clara as his bride, lover, and main course after a light appetizer. Topping things off are the various townspeople turning into cannibal zombies, and glimpses of the dam's fortieth anniversary party that suddenly turns into a bacchanalian orgy complete with male sodomy and the vile assaulting of a vanilla sheet cake (in other words: your average Junior League meeting). Will the town of Marinbad rise again, and spread its evil across the land? Will Dan and Teresa find true love? Will anyone ever be able to buy flood insurance after this whole big Magilla?
Once you figure out the "evil" that lurks within the bowels of Marinbad-Down-Under, Beneath Still Waters becomes a fairly routine exercise in waiting for the next big shock. And trust me; even if you're an amateur horror afficionado, you won't be all that shaken by the scares in Beneath Still Waters. It doesn't help that many of those shocks are totally illogical in the context of the film. If the producers of Beneath Still Waters are going to introduce about six different horror elements to the film, can't we at least expect an attempt to explain some of them? When Dan goes underwater to scout the village for the first time, he's suddenly enveloped by a black ooze that's been seeping all over the beach, and which previously got on Susana's leg. Dan's a goner, right? And yet, up pops Dan a few minutes later, never mentioning the gunk, and looking clean as a whistle. That's just one instance out of many shock scenes/red herrings that sink Beneath Still Waters without a trace.
Some of the gore effects are just okay, but again, you've seen them before - and executed better - in other films. The CGI effects of the divers underwater, prowling around the underwater city of Marinbad, might have passed muster for a made-for-TV movie, but they fail to impress for even a low-budget horror flick such as Beneath Still Waters. The acting isn't so bad, with cutie Charlotte Salt and stalwart Michael McKell walking away with the acting honors here. But director Yuzna, who's done better before, just can't seem to get hold of the material, and wrangle out a single, cohesive statement on this promising storyline.
The video image for Beneath Still Waters is presented in a sharp, clear 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen DVD transfer. One of the few saving graces of Beneath Still Waters is some nice cinematography by Johnny Yerbra.
You can choose either a Dolby Digital English 5.1 or 2.0 audio mixes. The score by Zacarias Martinez De La Riva is quite good, so listen to it -- and the various active, horrific screams -- in 5.1.
Only a few trailers for other Lionsgate films.
You won't be surprised by anything in Beneath Still Waters, and that's too bad, because the city underwater framework supporting the subpar, overly familiar "there's something evil in this town" central theme, is kind of interesting. A rental on a slow Friday night, when everything else is out, might suffice for gore fans, but certainly don't buy Beneath Still Waters.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.