You know what’s another great locale for shuddersome stories? Submarines. Playing on all the same fears as the ones that plagued our ladies of the cave in THE DESCENT (2005), David Twohy’s slick, under-the-radar film benefits greatly from its submerged war station, pitting iron-willed men buckling under (water) pressure against an intangible threat they cannot cope with or comprehend. Like the traumatized veterans of war, the cast of BELOW are haunted by past acts that they can never forget, no matter how many fathoms deep they remain. The script, a collaborative effort between David Twohy, Lucas Sussman, and Darren Aronofsky, is actually quite cohesive and there’s an overall wholesomeness to the story and the performances of the cast that is singular for a post-millennium picture. It feels at times like an artifact from an earlier, simpler time, appropriate given that it concerns the relations of an American crew and the British survivors they pick up at sea during World War II as they try to face the possibility that there may be restless spirits aboard their vessel. What’s especially old-fashioned about the movie is its approach to the supernatural. Fleeting faces are glimpsed in the metal bulwark, whispering voices are just barely heard over the hum of machinery, reflections move of their own volition. Don’t let the musical stings littered throughout fool you; this is a story that’s more intent on making you ask “Did I just see that?” than trying to scare you out of your skin. This objective is epitomized no more clearly than in a sequence that would have been exploited by Hollywood for its maximum shock factor but is here delivered quietly. The fact that the film can wipe out two-thirds of its cast without a single thing being said to the audience before we see the horrific aftermath makes me wish that David Twohy would make more movies other than another CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK sequel.

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