JULY 6, 2009
There’s a pile of DVDs in my room, the origin of many have been completely forgotten. Some are freebies from conventions, others were given to me by Mr. Disgusting, and a few were sent by smaller distribution houses that forgot to follow up with me (i.e. make me say “Oh shit I gotta watch that”)... who knows. All I know is, when I am between Blockbuster/Netflix deliveries, they come in handy. One such film is Beneath The Surface, which sounded like a decent enough indie zombie comedy.
And that’s exactly what it was: decent. There’s just as many pros as there are cons, resulting in a film that’s just plain ol’ OK. And it could have edged into the “pro” column had the synopsis not made the film sound a lot more complex and interesting than it really is. For example, the synopsis claims that the hero and the heroine are kept apart by “Shane and his gang of corrupt goons”, which suggested a sort of Crow style scenario. However, in the actual movie, Shane is the only real antagonist. He has a few friends, sure, but they don’t really factor into the action (in fact they pretty much disappear after the incident that sets off the horror angle).
Another thing the synopsis promises is that “Ethan makes a discovery that leads him beyond the realm of living and into a forgotten past. Now he must walk a fine line to prevent all hell from breaking loose.” Sounds awesome, right? Well, again, that’s not really what’s going on. Ethan resurrects the girl, and then keeps her in his room for the entire movie. The “forgotten past” comes in the form of an awkward, late in the game delivery of some exposition about some Haitians or whatever, providing a “sure, why not?” explanation for why her resurrection isn’t working as planned . And Hell doesn’t even seem to be concerned with what is going on at all, let alone about to break loose. In fact, synopsis aside, the film’s most crippling flaw is that there doesn’t seem to be anything at stake. They resurrect the girl in order to get her to identify her murderer, but we know who the killer is, she’s not a violent zombie by any means, and she doesn’t seem to be decomposing or anything. The laid back approach is kind of refreshing in a way, but after a while you just kind of want something to be concerned about.
One thing it definitely has going for it is a slightly off-kilter tone, especially in the first act. Odd background gags, insane realtors, a club dude who keeps dancing around like that one guy in Hot Rod, and a hero who keeps reading comics from 1991 (the movie was shot in 2005) all tickled me. And at one point, after the hero and the girl have been studying for hours, he gets blood on her shirt due to an injury that he suffered earlier in the day. So he’s just sitting there with an actively bleeding wound on his wrist? But the crème of the crop is definitely the villain’s dad, who is pretty much the best dad ever. He lets his son raid the liquor cabinet while he goes off to Vegas to fuck hookers (the son knows this), lets him swear, they mock each other... the dude rocks. And he looks kind of like Roger Corman, so he’s doubly awesome. I also dug the hero’s friend, but that’s mainly because he makes fun of jam bands and resembles my friend Phil.
But again, even the minor good things have equally minor bad counterparts. The acting is a bit all over the place, and I don’t mean some actors suck and some are great - I mean the individual performances from certain actors. The hero guy is fine in some scenes, others he seems like he wasn’t even aware he was due on set, saying his lines so fast that they have no resonance. The woman who tells him about the resurrection spell either overacts like a senile old bird, or like a caring grandmother. The weak acting also ruins some of the humorous dialogue; there are attempts at casual “Oh by the way we’re about to die” type humor near the end, and they all fall flat because of the “reading it off a card” delivery. And the laid back approach is fine to an extent, but stopping the movie cold halfway through the third act to show a band perform an ENTIRE SONG at a club is pretty unforgivable.
Still though, it’s certainly well made, which is more important than a perfect script or actors when it comes to these types of films (which can be shopped around in order to show what the filmmaker can do with limited means). The film is enthusiastically directed by Blake Reigle (his first film), and he doesn’t try to create a storyline beyond his means like many other indie zombie films do (you know, where they are like “It’s the end of the world! Just take our word for it.”). And at its center is a fairly sweet story about a guy losing his true love to violence and how he tries to cope with it. At times it reminded me a bit of Zombie Honeymoon, which sounds schlocky but is actually a really sad “single zombie” tale. Not bad company to be with. And while it could use some tightening, the editing on the whole is above average.
Unadvertised on the DVD, the disc has a few deleted scenes (skip em), a blooper reel (eh), a photo gallery, and some music videos. The only thing of any real worth is Reigle’s commentary. He’s a young guy, but unlike a lot of others in his age group, he’s not afraid to admit his mistakes on occasion, and also knows his shit about horror, name-checking old-school zombie films like I Walked With A Zombie instead of 28 Days Later or whatever. He also points out a lot of cast/location info (the hero’s best friend was in an Avril video!) and provides technical shooting details, always a plus since these types of tracks are more likely to be listened to by fellow budding filmmakers than anyone else. I just wish he had mixed the track along with the film better; there are a lot of rock songs in the film, and when they pop up in the film they sort of drown his commentary out.
Without even realizing that I owned it, I have actually considered renting this a few times from Blockbuster, so it has obviously been picked up for wide-spread distribution (some of the films in my freebie pile are unreleased). If you can appreciate a truly indie comedy/drama with a zombie, by all means check it out. Here’s hoping Reigle’s efforts pay off for him.
What say you?