The “Genre Wars” have slowed down of late on Death By Podcast (Green Room IS horror, Mike). The umbrella is wide open, as many films have toed the line of horror, blending in suspense, thriller, drama and action. Recently, I was contacted about a new film dropping that’d be up DBP’s alley. We have a new candidate to discuss when it comes to labeling! The Dark Below is a borderline psychological thriller, horror and drama. In addition, there is experimentation by Douglas Schulze (director/writer) and Jonathan D’Ambrosio (writer), as there is almost no dialogue (3 words?) and a score throughout accompanies the 75 minute film.
The Dark Below opens with a woman, Rachel (Lauren Mae Shafer), being choked out by a man, Ben (David G.B. Brown). He drags her body somewhere in an American arctic tundra, suits her up in scuba gear and tosses her into the frozen waters. Trapped under ice, Ben stalks Rachel and through flashbacks, the story unravels into the present hostile situation. The plot has more depth than a man trying to sadistically torture a woman, but you’ll have to watch to see how it all unfolds.
One of the amazing aspects of The Dark Below is how the story progresses without the use of dialogue. Feelings and emotions are evoked from the characters by facial expression, body language, camera angles and effective editing. There are many instances where the scene slows and the viewer absorbs the visual at hand, providing an experience of visiting an art exhibit— except this art moves.
The Dark Below also encapsulates terror, claustrophobia and anxiety, thus putting the film on the horror side of the fence. The lead, Lauren Mae Shafer, evokes emotions— shit, whom am I kidding?! I welled up during this one. Brown also has the look of a deviant saint, as his actions and mannerisms supply an antagonistic force one can’t resist to hate. Another character, which is not exactly a character, is the score. David Bateman created a haunting score and it kicks into high gear during the right moments. The sounds correspond with the emotion of the scene at hand, whether presented with joy, depression, regret, panic or fear. Next to the score is the cinematography, location and set design. The backdrop is an open ice field, with overhead floodlights hovering the small hellhole in the middle of nowhere. This is intimidating during the daytime, but when the sun goes down it looks like a portal to an alternative dimension full of nightmares. Whether it is the ice hole, gorgeous shots of the trees in the distance, or having a tiny air pocket while trapped under the ice water, the setting provides a constant feeling of imprisonment and claustrophobia.
Although the film does succeed on many levels, it is not for the average filmgoer. I can only imagine my parents watching this and falling asleep. I can see people disregarding the movie because it does not have dialogue. Kind of reminds me of people who toss Phish and other jam bands to the curb because they are going to play their instruments for 32 minutes and not utter a word. Has anyone ever listened to Jazz? This is more of an art-house, avant-garde approach, and I’m all for it. I’m not just looking at the story at hand, but the underlying themes being provoked by the images on display between the man and woman in the narrative. This is poetry to a degree. The Dark Below has musical lingo, photogenic exhibition, and the human condition communicating to my brain differently then when I watch a film and focus on dialogue. I am extremely curious to see how others will react to the film or if it is just me Joeying it up.
4 out of 5 Zombie Heads