MARCH 12, 2008
Sometimes a movie I watch for the day is sort of contrarian to the original idea of Horror Movie A Day, which is to basically “talk” about a horror movie, albeit in internet form (as opposed to a typical review). But a movie like Underbelly doesn’t quite fit the bill, because it’s not out yet. It’s just now gearing up for a festival run, and as far as I know, has no distribution as of yet. Hopefully that’ll change soon so some of you folks can check it out with relative ease.
On the flipside, the movie is actually ideal for this site’s intentions, because the film doesn’t explain or spell out a lot of its horror elements. It is open to interpretation, so everyone will probably come away with a different idea of what happened at the end and want to post their thoughts.
As this is an independent film, the actors are hardly well-known. However, they are all surprisingly good. More surprising, none of them share the same last name as the director. Likewise, the production value is good across the board – then again I’ve said before that it would actually take effort to make Texas look bad on film; it’s the most photogenic state there is! While it’s a small film, there are a lot of different locations, allowing the film to seem bigger than it is in actuality.
I say that because this is a rather slow film, with very little action. Like The Lost, it’s bookended by some top notch thriller stuff, but the middle can get a bit slow (not nearly as crippling as The Lost though). Writer/director Matt Cade made the interesting choice to follow not the “hero” of the film, but the villains instead (the film centers on 2 disappearances, the hero’s wife and the villain’s sister). They are a largely unpleasant lot, but they also have a dark sense of humor that permeates their actions. This presents some tonal problems (it’s kind of hard to laugh at a guy’s ironic joke after he’s just raped someone) but the unique point of view is enough to keep these matters from permanently damaging the film.
Aside from that, I really dug the movie’s strange tone. There are occasional musical numbers, and a full minute of the film is given to a guy beating the shit out of a cell phone (which he’s not very good at, after like 12 stomps the damn thing still looks intact). There’s also a gonzo scene where the villains visit the site of David Koresh’s cult compound and the leader waxes philosophic about his admiration for the group, while an acoustic ballad with reversed lyrics plays over the soundtrack (I plan to utilize the PS3’s handy “play sound while in reverse” function and see what the guy is saying). Fans of David Lynch will appreciate these moments.
Speaking of the music, it’s great. There are songs and score, all seemingly done by the same group of folks, and I enjoyed them all. There are a few songs that remind me of The Refreshments/Peacemakers, which is always a good thing as far as I’m concerned. If you’ve never heard the Freshies’ "The Bottle And Fresh Horses", you’re missing out on some grade A southern flavored pop rock.
Also the composer/star of the movie is a guy named Fritz Beer. That’s the best name ever.
Like I said before, the horror elements are left largely to interpretation. Discussing them would be spoiler-ish (I don’t do spoilers when it’s likely not a single reader has seen the film yet), but suffice to say that those who like everything spelled out (or even generally explained) will be frustrated by the film’s lack of answers. I didn’t mind not understanding them all, but I DO wish there was a little more tension to the plot, which would make these scenes more effective. The disappearance of the two women seems largely forgotten for a while, to the point where I was wondering if that plotline was merely a macguffin – but the fact that the climax revolves around the conclusion to this story thread nullified that as an option. Hell, one character disappeared for so long I forgot what he looked like. But, it’s rare I see a movie (especially now, when I’m watching so goddamn many) that I am still thinking about a few hours later, replaying scenes in my head to try to see if information I got later in the film gave them new meaning. Hell, I may even watch it again!
Like Return In Red, this is the type of movie where you gotta be patient and accept that it’s not going to have a big Bruckheimer-ian climax. And like that film, Underbelly more or less overcomes the limitations of a REAL independent production (I love when I look at Boxofficemojo and they point out the record breaking figures for “independent” films like Rob Zombie’s Halloween) and turns out pretty good. It’s not for everyone (what movie is?), but I enjoyed it overall, and for once it’s nice to see an indie where none of the problems are technical and/or acting related. If it’s playing at a festival near you, check it out (movie's website is HERE).
And thank CHRIST, it’s actually an anamorphic DVD! So for those keeping score – DVD that was possibly burnt on the director’s home computer – anamorphic; Multi-million dollar movie from a major studio starring Shannyn Sossamon – non anamorphic. Fuck you, Lionsgate!
What say you?