Director: David Twohy
Writer: Darren Aronovsky (very cool), Lucas Sussman, and David Twohy
Cinematographer: Ian Wilson
by Jon Cvack
I remember a buddy of mine telling me about Below - "It’s a scary movie set on a submarine" and so went one of the most effective descriptions I've ever heard. This was about eight years ago, and for as much as I enjoyed the film back then, for some reason it just didn't work this time.
Almost everything in this movie feels and looks cheap - from the lighting to the VFX to much of the action; I’m talking movie-of-the-week level of polish. I suppose it’s the natural lighting in the sub, which allowed the photography to get a bit more expressive as the the story progressed, but after you see Crimson Tide, Das Boot, or even U571, you question whether this was a deliberate choice and how much they might have regretted it.
Zach Galifianakis is in the film, which I suppose is helping the film's shelf life. While his character plays strange and paranoid fairly well, you never for one moment believe that this is a person from the 1940s. He looks and acts exactly the same as he does nowadays. Once again, I’m confused over how uncreative some of these choices were. And this isn’t to criticize Galifianakis so much as the director or studio who kept on pushing this goofy approach to the material, which I guess is the comedic relief, but is more like comedic distraction. Perhaps it’s only because we now know Zach G. as a Goofy Guy, but he played his role in Birdman so well that I just don't get it. When I’m suppose to take a line seriously, or get frightened by a particular event or moment, every time they cut to him and he’s wearing a necklace full of Cracker Jack prizes - I'm immediately pulled out. And that's because he's funny, and the movie isn’t engaging enough to make you forget that it’s funny, rendering all of the thrills and chills ineffective.
Nevertheless, it is a cool setting for a film that takes its fair share of liberties in order to move things along. For instance, setting fire to the entire crew in some sort of freak accident that I don’t understand, except that it involves fumes, though I still question how that could have charred all of the men. Or how the oil is leaking out yet there’s hardly a sign of any oil in the water when the men swim through it. Or that the men would have been so frightened about having to own up to the ship that they decide to kill their own captain, rather than stating that it was a honest mistake, since the ships did look nearly identical. Repeated viewings don’t really help these illogical decisions. They just become more noticeable.
Submarine movies succeed by their claustrophobia and isolation. If you die under water you will die a miserable death. The movie plays with this, especially as they're attacked by those hooks hanging off the German ship (I wonder if these are real things, as they do make sense). Yet there’s something that seems to be missing, as though they just grazed the service of what could have had so much. I keep leaning toward the horrible cinematography. If it just felt like I was on a ship in the 1940s I think I could have had an easier time believing all the other moments.
BELOW: All of the puns I can think of are too terrible to include. Here's a clip that gives a taste
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