JANUARY 8, 2012
I almost never look at reviews of a movie before I see it, but the plot description of Beneath The Darkness toed the line of what I'd call a horror movie, so I wanted to get a little more analysis than a synopsis written for publicity's sake would provide. And in the one I looked at, which referred to it as a B-horror movie (yay!), they pointed out that this is the first time in his career that Dennis Quaid has played the bad guy. Well to that I say, I guess you haven't seen Pandorum (blacked out since it's kind of a spoiler to say so), but yes, there is some novelty in seeing Quaid, one of our most "All-American" type hero actors, having some fun as a batshit crazy mortician.
Now, I'm not spoiling anything by saying he's the villain - he buries a guy alive in the first scene. Why he did this isn't explained until the final 5 minutes, but believe me when I tell you that it's hardly worth the wait. Part of the problem with the movie is that there's no mystery or intrigue of any sort with regards to whether or not Quaid is a killer, but the movie doesn't focus on him, like Psycho or Henry or whatever. Instead, it focuses on a group of typical high school teens (admirably played by actors within 2-3 years of the age they are playing, for a change), who get bored one night and decide to spy on Quaid and see if he's doing anything creepy in his house.
Well, uh... yes, he is. We saw it in the first scene - who cares if these kids find out about it too? Why would anyone want to watch a movie about a bunch of uninteresting teenagers trying to catch up to the audience? Every now and then they dip into nail-biter suspense territory, such as when an investigating cop almost finds one of the teens (who is buried in a makeshift coffin right below his feet), but otherwise the movie acts as if we don't know if Quaid is a killer or just some lonely, strange guy.
Worse, there's almost zero action. A movie about Quaid covering his tracks (he kills one of the teens pretty early on) might be at least mildly enjoyable, but as he is a high school football hero (because of course he is, he's Dennis Quaid AND the movie is set in Texas), everyone else in town believes his story that the kids were robbing him and one of them tripped and fell down the stairs. After that, it seems as if the kids could have just learned their lesson and left him alone. Instead they just keep going back trying to find evidence, and each time is less interesting than the last - they even recycle the same scuffle on the stairs! But the entire movie unfolds through their eyes - there are precious few scenes that are from his perspective, and unsurprisingly they are the best thing in the movie, even if they're occasionally pointless (there's a scene where he argues with a mechanic about the cost to fix his van - a "subplot" with absolutely no bearing on anything). Still, it's better than anything with the kids, and the others are even better - I wouldn't dream of spoiling its contents, but I shit you not - the film's final NINE SECONDS are the only reason this movie isn't in the crap bin.
It's also loaded with painfully bad dialogue, which I feel a bit guilty about mentioning since the screenwriter sadly passed away a few months ago. But come on, lines like "You got a 100 on this test. That was the highest mark in the class!" are just too awful not to point out. Speaking of the class, it seems the writer couldn't make up his mind over which obligatory literary metaphor to go with, so he awkwardly went with both - for some reason the kids are studying "Tell-Tale Heart" (because it ties into crazed murderers - like Quaid!), but then she tells them to finish Act III of "Macbeth"? So they stopped reading 2/3s of the way through a Shakespeare play in order to cover a Poe short story? But "Macbeth" deals with ghosts and guilt and such, so that ties in as well.
Well, sort of. There's a potentially interesting subplot about one of the teens seeing ghosts (something about his sister's death - a subplot that seemingly has no connection to the Quaid stuff, despite some dialogue that seems to suggest otherwise), but like the broken down van, it goes nowhere. One of the kids also disappears from the narrative at one point, which is fine because he was useless anyway, but it just further proves what a mess this is. And messes can be fun, but it's a BORING mess, with a minuscule body count and a total lack of any sort of suspense.
Plus, a villain that isn't allowed to really chew the scenery until the final 9 seconds. As with Legion, Quaid seemed to be channeling his buddy Meat Loaf at times (Loaf's pal Brett Cullen also pops up), as his character has a weird tic like most of Meat's characters do (in this case, he constantly puffs an electric cigarette) and his mannerisms are similar to Loaf's performances in movies like Black Dog and Rustin. But Loaf would have let himself go a lot sooner, giving the movie more of a spark. Quaid reigns it in too often, and I could never buy him as a mortician, either - Loaf would have been pretty believable in that role (and a football hero, as well).
(Speaking of Legion - second Quaid movie where he co-stars with a Friday Night Lights star; that one had Tara/Adrienne Palicki, this one has Julie Taylor/Aimee Teegarden. Do a buddy cop movie with Kyle Chandler! It'll be amazing!!!)
Ultimately, it just lacks any clear purpose. At times I wondered if it was based on a true life incident and they just forgot to embellish it in order to make an exciting or interesting movie - it's too straightforward and bland to work as a thriller, but the characters aren't defined well enough to work as a drama, either. It's just THERE. In fact I can sum up my feelings with this minor note - two girls came into the movie 10 minutes late and began yammering. I "shushed" them after a few minutes, which worked for a while. Later, they started talking again, but by this point the movie had lost me and I didn't care. "Hey, you're ruining my total lack of enjoyment in this pointless movie!" Here's a photo of the mess they made:
When a movie is so dull that I can't even bother to insult the sort of losers who trash a theater like this, you know it has truly failed.
What say you?
P.S. Odd bit of "trivia", on my way into the theater the ticket-taker made me discard my soda from the Taco Bell next door. I was going to rant about this idiotic policy (I'm not going to buy your soda at 5 dollars a cup, morons), but I felt like I might have done that before - and I did, in my review of Pandorum... starring Dennis Quaid. Weird. But screw it, I'm going to say it again: I understand the basic point of this policy, but it in no way actually produces the desired effect. I'm not going to buy theirs to replace the one they made me toss out, and if anything I'm going to rethink going there again in the future, because they clearly don't care about me having a good experience when I go there. I would also suggest that people might not try to "sneak in" outside drinks if they weren't overcharging so much. If Taco Bell can serve a 20 oz cup of soda for two bucks, why are you charging five? And thus I would stress to theaters - if you have a bunch of eateries nearby, introduce competitive pricing on the items that folks can buy next door. I'd have no problem GIVING THEM MORE MONEY if they weren't charging over double what places within 50 yards are asking. Something to think about.