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Paramount // R // August 7, 2007
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted August 2, 2007 | E-mail the Author
Beneath, an MTV Films horror presentation from Dagen Merril, has only two things going for it: Nora Zehetner and a plot that's intriguing maybe one-third of the time. Everything else, including the other two-thirds of this story, seem to make a conceited effort to leave the viewer bored and brainless. And if it weren't for its two shiny little crystals in a sea of dingy pebbles, there would be nearly zilch to enjoy.

The Film:

After her sister Vanessa's violent death in a blazing car crash, Christy (Nora Zehetner) is forced to go into mental hospitals at a young age to combat the tragedy. Once she has grown more stable, she ventures out into the world to pursue a profession in medicine far away from her town. Though seemingly better, she still has flashes of memories from and after the accident regarding her sister's rehabilitation and death. Some of these flashes, however, are of things and people surrounding her family that she's never met before.

Christy is pulled back towards her home after a close family friend passes on. As she returns, she comes in contact with her sister's husband and daughter, as well as the husband's mother. When she comes back to their house, her visions start to turn into realities. Much like these sketches in her book, haunting images from her dreams start to pop up repeatedly. Familiar faces, specific shots, and the unnerving shots of her sister being buried alive flush her thoughts. Are the dreams of her sister being prematurely buried true? That's a secret Christy will have to discover for herself.

I wanted to like Beneath. Starting out the film with a mentally disturbed heroine sketching out her dreams in a foretelling nature lends an air of promise at the starting gate. Christy's initial character development isn't a work of art, but it's also not too shabby either. However, much like the abandoned mines sitting atop the hill in her hometown, the rickety nature of this film starts to look like it'll topple onto itself very quickly. And, once the first utterance of death potentially being "misdiagnosed" pops up, that's when this flick really starts to hit some rough patches.

Amidst a head throbbing editing style and a nonsensical unveiling in narrative, Beneath attempts to twist and tangle the viewer into a web of mystery. It leans against a vaguely familiar, overdone premise that you will swear you've seen before. Many of the stunted attempts at plot eccentricities vaguely reminded me of an appendix-style adaptation of Franju's Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux Sans Visage). Instead of being compelling, these stale obstacles leave you nothing but frustrated and apathetic. Each turn around the corner either provides a revelation that we could care less about, or one of Christie's meddled blackouts that offer close to zero substance to an already crippled and unoriginal storyline. Moreover, these finagling efforts to try and lose us in a "mystifying" plot with a maze of lies and trickery feel more like being jerked around to almost abusive levels.

It would be one thing if Beneath retained some resemblance of flavor or dread during this twisting, fumbling chaos. However, the only resemblance of flair within the entire film comes from Nora Zehetner. After an enchanting turnout in the exquisite indie-noir Brick as a sly, smooth female crutch helping to support the lead, seeing her in the star's spot made my promise level rise a bit. Where several other unsavory performances pop up to excessive levels in Beneath, Zehetner's talent ends up grossly underused. Though constrained to subdued levels, you can still catch glimmers of her talent sporadically. Right now, she's got the potential to be a splendid younger actor and, all developing properly, might build into something akin to Audrey Tautou's unconventional poise and toxic sweetness. She undoubtedly needs to start picking her projects right, however. This doesnt do Zehetner justice.

Beneath is a bland, unintelligent, and overall weak horror flick, especially once the mystery ceases and the "horror" starts to surface. Too much is jammed into this 80+ minute film to make heads or tails about any of the elements. Then there's a gross abundance of mounting dramatic possibilities to consider and an insurmountable level of plotholes, such as the existence of an eminent "monster" amidst the family and the usage of severely convoluted passageways originally crafted in the home for escape purposes. Even with the logic and reason dial marked down to minimalist levels, all you're left with is a swiftly edited and underdeveloped tumble into tediousness.

The DVD:

MTV Films / Paramount bring Beneath to us in a standard DVD keepcase with solid silver discart.

The Video:

Beneath at least looks good through its anamorphic widescreen presentation. Color representation and detail remained quite strong. Though most of the set decoration is generic, there are a few instances where certain halls and rooms display nice color balances and palettes. Especially with deep greens and reds, Beneath's crisp visuals work in the film's favor.

The Audio:

This Dolby 5.1 audio wasn't terribly enveloping, but it still managed to add some much-needed atmosphere to the film. Some varied surround effects reach out from the rear channels. Strangely, it only seems like lower musical levels really tapped into the LFE channel. Dialogue was cleanly audible, as was the sporadic sound effects. English and Spanish Subtitles are available.

The Extras:

Not a darn thing, except for a few Previews and a Scene Selection.


Final Thoughts:

Many other films get the same job done with bravado that murky Beneath blandly achieves. If you dare, I'd recommend you stretch out to the French horror film Eyes Without a Face for a truly unnerving and chilling experience regarding similar core material. However, Beneath is a comatose, cliché horror / mystery that's best to just breeze by. Skip It.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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