Beneath the Dark is a bleak examination of guilt and the cascading consequences of past sins. It also relies heavily on one of the oldest twists in the book to stitch together the story it needs to tell. This is a damn shame because the tense atmosphere conjured up by writer / director Chad Feehan, goes out the window leaving behind the musty smell of a stale space that others have inhabited before him.
Paul (Josh Stewart) and Adrienne (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) are on their way to L.A. for a wedding. While the long trip has tired out Paul, it has done wonders for Adrienne's libido. In an ill-advised move, they start to make out while Paul continues to drive. In his distracted state, Paul drives off the highway but manages to bring the car to a stop before anything too awful can happen. With common sense staring them in the face, they decide to check into a nearby motel. Sure it's deserted and the night manager is a squirrelly fellow but what else were they going to do?
Elsewhere we encounter a couple whose marriage is on the rocks. Frank (Chris Browning) works the graveyard shift as a security guard in a department store while his wife Sandy (Angela Featherstone), trolls the bars around town looking for strange men to take home with her. Their tale would be a sad one of desperation and self-loathing if it weren't for the strange connection they seem to have with Paul and Adrienne. You see, Frank looks exactly like the odd night manager at the deserted motel while a woman who looks like Sandy shows up in Paul and Adrienne's room when they are sleeping. Things are about to get very weird.
Although they don't garner equal interest, the film definitely has two halves. There's the psychological thriller featuring Paul and Adrienne and the tragic human drama of Frank and Sandy. Paul and Adrienne's increasingly awkward circumstances at the motel are definitely the more captivating half of the storyline. The entire motel setting feels incredibly sparse and staged in an eerie way. By keeping the cast of characters in this portion of the film to a minimum, Feehan ramps up the tension while maintaining an ominous undercurrent.
By contrast, Frank and Sandy's saga just feels short, simple and sad. Whenever the film would cut over to them, I would wish for a return to the motel. I'm not suggesting that dramatic elements can't coexist with more fantastical ones. It's just that when one half of a film possesses so much nervous energy, it almost saps the other half of its momentum. The fact that Feehan seeks to connect the two halves in a meaningful way is commendable. Unfortunately the manner in which he does so is incredibly trite. I'm talking, of course, about the big twist in the tale
As you probably gathered from my earlier synopsis, not everyone in the film is who they seem to be. It's the only explanation for how Frank and Sandy can show up in both of the storylines. Unfortunately the final revelation that puts everything in perspective is a major letdown. It's the sort of twist that seasoned audience members have seen plenty of times in the past. Having been impressed by Feehan's restrained style up until that point, I was disappointed to see him fall back on the familiar to tie things up. Although the film would have lost some of its shock value, I believe it would have benefited from forgoing the twist and playing it straight.
The movie was presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Since much of the film takes place at night, there are plenty of dark shots which largely feature excellent shadow detail. A repeating motif of blue shows up in the color palette giving us a better look at the mental state of the characters. Altogether, this was an above average visual presentation.
The audio was presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The mix was free of any obvious defects although it did seem to favor the front of the soundstage. Other than that, it adequately conveyed the quiet stillness of the creepy motel and the jarring effect of a jukebox suddenly coming to life. English SDH and Spanish subtitles were available.
The only extra features are a Trailer for the film and a short Interview with director Feehan, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Josh Stewart. The interview doesn't cover much ground although Feehan does mention In the Bedroom and The Shining as tonal influences for the film.
With Beneath the Dark, Chad Feehan writes himself into a corner that he can't quite direct himself out of. This is a tragic tale of guilt that has been dressed up as a psychological thriller. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, it does lead to a climax that relies heavily on a hokey twist that has been seen before (and done better). Feehan has good control over the atmosphere which he cultivates here. Now he just needs more control over his script. Rent It.