‘Beneath The Darkness’ a painfully earnest thriller that falls into every bad-movie trap
Directed by Martin Guigui
Screenplay by Bruce Wilkinson
In the post-Scream era, it should be impossible to make a thriller or horror film that does not comment on the conventions of the genre. The only proof that it is possible is Beneath the Darkness, a painfully earnest thriller that falls into every bad-movie trap that a film of this sort could fall into. It’s the very sort of movie that the characters in Scream would laugh at.
Martin Guigui’s film opens with small-town Texas mortician Vaughn Eli (Dennis Quaid) killing a man. That scene, plus the subsequent story element that protagonist Travis (Tony Oller) once saw his sister’s ghost, might lead one to expect a thriller with a touch of the supernatural. Travis is studying Macbeth and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” which only reinforces that mood.
Instead the film delivers some turgid teen drama. Travis and friends are curious about why Eli is so creepy, so they form their own Scooby Gang to find out. At one point a character name-checks Buffy the Vampire Slayer during the investigation, but even that mildly clever moment is delivered in the most humorless way possible. The supernatural elements are quickly ditched, never to be seen again.
As the mystery plot accelerates, the performances create breakneck shifts in tone. The young actors, television veterans all, do their best with the bland dialogue that they’re given. On the other hand, Quaid delivers the most crazy-ass performance of his career, and not in a good way. He chews his cheesy dialogue while perpetually fidgeting with an e-cigarette that is without question the strangest product placement in the history of advertising.
This film almost reaches so-bad-it’s-good status several times, either because of Quaid’s sheer insanity or the laughable incompetence of the local police. Each time, it pulls back and tries to regain its sincerity with a weak dramatic note, including a psychological thriller ending that is neither psychological nor thrilling. Only the film’s final line indicates any awareness of its own lunacy, and by then it is far too late.