Directed by Larry Fessenden, probably best known for 2001's Wendigo, 2013's Beneath begins with a group of high school friends having just finished up their final year heading out to a remote lake to party. We get the poplar jock guy named Matt (Chris Conroy), his younger brother Simon (Jonny Orsini), Matt's pretty blonde girlfriend Kitty (Bonnie Dennison), her friend Debbie (Mackenzie Rosman), a nerdy guy with a camcorder fetish named Zeke (Griffin Newman) and the unusually quiet Johnny (Daniel Zovatto). It seems all of this was Johnny's idea and while he doesn't necessarily believe the stories his grandfather told him about the big man eating fish in the lake, he cares for Kitty and wants her to be safe. She doesn't want to wear the weird necklace he tries to give her before they get in the boat, however.
So yeah, the six friends ignore the crazy old guy (Mark Margolis) who warns Johnny not to take his friends out, and the hop into a rowboat and head across the lake. Once they get about half way there, Matt, Kitty and Debbie decide to go for a swim. Zeke films them while Simon and Johnny, who kinda-sorta warns them not to do this, look on. Of course, that big fish appears and while they all make it back to the boat in one piece, Debbie winds up getting a nasty bite on her arm and bleeds to death. From here, the five surviving friends try to row their way back to shore, but this fish, he's a crafty one with big teeth and an even bigger appetite.
The good outweighs the bad here, but let's start with the bad. First of all? Debbie's last name is Vorhees. It's annoying when horror movies incessantly name characters after characters in other, better recognized horror movies, there's no need for it. A minor quibble, but a quibble. On top of that, some of the acting is less than perfect. While the characters obviously find themselves in a pretty horrible situation, there's some scenery chewing here and while the flaws that the characters have (as written) make them human, it also results in a cast where we can't really ‘like' anyone all that much. As such, it's hard to get too invested in any one of the six main protagonists, if any of them are actually protagonists. This negative can be a positive in a way, however, as it results in some unexpected actions in the last half of the movie where it all starts to hit the fan and these characters start to do what they feel is necessary to do in order to survive. Anything else to complain about? Well, those who hate found footage movies might be irked by the fact that we see some of the action through Zeke's camera, but in the context of the movie it works and it isn't overbearing or really all that annoying. It's only mentioned here because that seems to be a pet peeve for a lot of horror fans, probably because it's often overused and sloppy. In this movie, it doesn't feel too out of place.
So what about the good? The fish itself is done using practical effects. He's not a CGI beastie but a good old fashioned animatronic creation and the effects work on display in the movie is actually pretty well done. There are few spots where the movements don't quite convince but more often than not, thanks to clever camera work and well executed puppeteering the critter moves and reacts well enough that we can buy it. There's some solid gore here too, a few of the death scenes are pretty grisly. Probably the most interesting aspect of the movie, however, is where it takes us in terms of morality and decision making. The fish is really just the catalyst for what this cast of characters winds up doing to themselves. Alliances are formed only to be broken while betrayals shatter friendships at the most inopportune of times. Where everyone should be using their heads and working together (there are moments where, removed from the situation, we as the audience can and do see better ideas than the characters do) we instead watch as human nature and the selfishness inherent in it takes over.
The movie is well shot, the locations are beautiful and make for a nice visual contrast to the events that take place no camera. Some solid editing and good camera work help to keep things looking good and the movie is nicely paced and, towards the end, fairly suspenseful. This borrows from Jaws and from Creepshow 2's The Raft segment but it gets enough right on its own to make it worth checking out, particularly if you've got a thing for monster movies and/or killer fish.
Beneath arrives on Blu-ray framed at 1.78.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. This was shot on high definition digital video so obviously there are no issues with grain or print damage. The image is crisp and clean and nicely detailed and while there is some noticeable shimmer (mostly on ripples across the lake) the disc is well authored. There are no problems with heavy compression artifacts or crush and given that the vast majority of the movie takes place outside under sunny skies, we wind up with some really nice color reproduction here. Greens in the trees stand out nicely while the red blood that splatters across the screen looks bold and bright without ever looking artificially pumped up. This would appear to be a pretty accurate representation of the source material, the movie looks very good here.
The main audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio with subtitles provided in English only, though and optional English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track is also included. The 5.1 mix is quite good, there's some solid channel separation in the front left and right speakers throughout most of the movie and the rear channels fill in with the score and some pertinent directional effects when the story calls for it. Levels are nicely balanced throughout and dialogue is always easy to hear and plenty clean. The score has good depth and range to it and there are no problems to report here.
The extras on the disc start off with a commentary track from director Larry Fessenden and sound designer Graham Reznick. This is a fairly active track that is about as laid back as they come. Fessenden and Reznick are both very relaxed here, talking in a really mellow tone and noting the Jaws influence right off the bat. They talk about filming on a lake in Connecticut and they discuss the difficulties of shooting underwater. They cover the script, the way that the movie starts with long, inclusive shots and how that changes as the movie evolves and gets more intense, what was improvised by the cast and now, the effects work and more. Fessenden has a lot more to say here than Reznick does but they both have enough to contribute here that it makes for a pretty interesting listen.
From there we get an hour long behind the scenes featurettes entitled Behind Beaneath: Making The Fish Movie which goes into quite a bit of detail in showing us how the monster was created in a shop, how the animatronics and puppeteering aspects were handled, audition and test footage and more. It's almost all fly-on-the-wall style, there isn't really any narration to tie all of this together but it does look like it was done in sequence, meaning we start off with pre-production footage, move onto a whole lot of footage of the cast and crew doing their thing on set. Also found on the disc is a two minute Poster/Premiere segment that shows the movie's poster being made in a print shop and two webisodes
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.