Beneath the Darkness
Image // Unrated // $29.97 // February 28, 2012
Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 18, 2012
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Zoinks! Abby (Aimee Teegarden), her kinda-sorta boyfriend Travis (Tony Oller), and a few other clean-scrubbed fake teenager types think they've spotted a gh-gh-ghost! at Old Man Ely's creepy ol' house. I mean, they see a couple of silhouettes dancing in an upstairs window, and...well, what else could it be? Ghosts. Mystery solved. These crazy kids want to see a couple of undead, ballroom-dancing apparitions up close -- who wouldn't? -- so obviously they break into the guy's house for a better look. Only...wait! Old Man Ely (Dennis Quaid), the finger-wagglingly spooky mortician here in Smithville, catches 'em in the act. The kids, I mean, not the ghosts. Ely seems like he's going to let them off with a stern warning and that trademarked Dennis-Quaid-scowl until...oh! He kicks one of the poor bastards down the stairs and stomps on the kid's battered, bloodied head.

Wait, though! Mr. Ely has been a respected, upstanding citizen in this sleepy little Texan hamlet for decades now. If you were the cops, whose story are you gonna believe: the local football hero you palled around with in high school, or a couple of -- bleech! -- damnfool kids? Abby and Travis are determined to expose Ely's sticky underbelly to the world at large, even if that means busting into his house again to uncover the evidence they need. And it does. And he has a gun and likes burying people alive and sneaks up behind them and there are frantic chases and oh my God I don't want to talk about the plot anymore.

Beneath the Darkness plays so much like a Lifetime Original Movie that I'm kind of astonished that Meredith Baxter-Birney didn't score second-billing. Yeah, it's that kind of lazy, lifeless, paint-by-numbers thriller. Beneath the Darkness isn't propelled by any sort of energy, instead dragged down by weak performances, limp direction, amateurish editing, and leaden pacing. There's never anything resembling menace or suspense. Every last twist and turn is telegraphed well in advance. Nods to vastly superior, actually worthwhile works like "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "Macbeth" are clumsily heavy-handed, although you do get to hear Aimee Teegarden affect a British accent at one point, so there's that. The faux-witty dialogue reminds me of that shitty guy you know who asks "workin' hard or hardly workin'?", then laughs way too long at his own joke and starts jingling the change in his pocket or something equally insufferable. Ely makes a "tickets to the gun show" joke about working out, and multiple characters laugh. Fuck you, movie. At no point does anything interesting or surprising threaten to happen. There is kind of a ghost story at one point that's completely disconnected from everything else that's going on, and I figured that was somehow going to tie into the main murder mystery, The one allegedly creepy image that's supposed to stay with you doesn't pack much of an impact, although I guess it is proof that Ely is a really, really good mortician.

Way too much of the acting is tainted by a high-school-production-of-The-Crucible level of stiltedness, and gleefully marching in on the other end of that spectrum comes Dennis Quaid. Playing against type here as an unrepentant, murderous nutjob, Quaid settles in for 91 minutes straight of bugged eyes and scenery-chewing. It's a howlingly, cartoonishly over-the-top performance, which on one hand is kind of a fascinating trainwreck to watch but on the other prevents Ely from ever coming across as a credible threat. (Also standing in the way of Ely seeming like a credible threat: everything else in the movie.) Where I was really, really, really letdown is that Ely spends the entire flick puffing on one of those electronic cigarettes, so you just know that when the guy gets whatever's coming to him at the end, that stupid eCig is going to factor into that somehow. Nope. The one glimmer of hope for something amazing...dashed!

So, yeah, Beneath the Darkness is a room temperature thriller devoid of any thrills, and the only thing vaguely noteworthy about it is Dennis Quaid's deliriously batshit hamminess which really is something for the ages. Skip It.

Beneath the Darkness really doesn't want to play in the BD-ROM drive on my computer, so I couldn't pepper this review with a bunch of screenshots the way I usually do. I guess you'll just have to take my word for it when I say that Beneath the Darkness gets my nod as the single worst looking Blu-ray release I've come across so far in 2012.

First and foremost, the black levels are completely fucked up. I don't mean this in some nitpicky videophile sort of way; even the large letterboxing bars of this scope film are a bright, bright gray. That alone is enormously distracting, but the borked blacks go on to torpedo just about anything Beneath the Darkness might have done right. Thanks to that flattened contrast, there's obviously zero depth or dimensionality on display here. The cinematography has such a harshly digital and strangely smooth texture to it that I assumed it was shot on second-rate digital gear...very surprised to see a 35mm camera whirring away in the extras. Clarity and fine detail are well below average for a newly-minted Blu-ray disc, looking more like something I'd catch on one of the basic cable high-def channels. I don't know if it's the choice of film stock or the shop that fielded the telecine work, but there's just something about the colors and reproduction that make Beneath the Darkness look a hell of a lot older than it really is. It seriously looks more like a TV movie from 2004 than a flick that was in a limited theatrical release less than a month and a half ago. Despite the fact that there's nothing resembling a pure black anywhere in here, there's still an oppressive black crush that stomps out a lot of the detail in underlit stretches., you know how if you look at a cheap LCD monitor really far off-axis, it has that purplish-dark-blue look to it? Some of the night exteriors are slathered in that for whatever reason, leaving the image looking distractingly artificial. This being an Image release and all, I'm sure it goes without saying that the bitrate of this AVC encode is anemic, although there are so many other problems that hiccups in the compression weren't really on my radar.

This presentation of Beneath the Darkness is incompetent and then some. I genuinely can't fathom how anyone with a pair of functioning eyeballs could give the all-clear to a glaring flaw that dominates literally every single frame of the movie. Its indefensibly poor presentation would be a dealbreaker, although...hey! It's not as if Beneath the Darkness would've been worth bothering with anyway.

At least Beneath the Darkness sounds better than it looks, although...well, that's not saying much either. Its 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is fairly uneventful. Dialogue is reproduced unevenly and kind of blandly. Bass response is generally modest, adding a meager kick to the jump scares and getting kind of rumbly near the end there. The generic thriller score doesn't roar from the speakers with any ferocity, although at least it gives the surrounds something to do other than dish out some mild atmospheric effects. Pretty thoroughly mediocre.

No dubs, commentaries, or alternate mixes this time around. Subtitles are offered in English (SDH) and Spanish.

There are about four and a half minutes' worth of extras in all, just in case anyone's keeping track at home.
  • Behind the Scenes (3 min.; HD): No talking head interviews or voiceover narration here -- just two and a half minutes of the cast and crew at work during the filming of Beneath the Darkness.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): A high-def theatrical trailer rounds out the long, long list of extras.

The Final Word
I wouldn't be able to make it more than eight minutes into Beneath the Darkness if it were airing for free on the Lifetime Movie Network, and I sure as hell am not gonna recommend that you shell out twenty bucks or whatever to own it, forever and ever amen. That's kind of an impressive one-two combination, standing out as the single worst movie and the worst looking Blu-ray disc I've been subjected to this year. I think you see where this is going: Skip It.

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