It’s been too long since indie horror director/producer Larry Fessenden made his own movie. The Last Winter, his clumsy bigger budget attempt to follow-up on the sublime Wendigo, came out in 2006. And now Beneath completes the trajectory from sublime to clumsy to ridiculous, plopping into a tiny lake and barely making a splash.
Beneath starts with the usual beats for a crappy horror movie. Stereotypical smirking teens going out into the woods, their bewilderment at not getting cell phone reception, an elderly harbinger warning them away, a cat scare, and so on. You might think Fessenden — once a smart, subtle, insightful filmmaker and even actor (in the movie Habit, the bathtub explanation about his missing tooth is a memorable heartfelt instance of non-acting acting) — is doing this stuff knowingly. You might think he’s going to cleverly subvert it.
No such thing happens, perhaps because Fessenden is working from a script by two guys who wrote Bird Flu Horror. I didn’t see Bird Flu Horror. I’m confident I don’t need to see Bird Flu Horror. I’m also confident that Beneath has more in common with Bird Flu Horror than with Wendigo, Habit, or even The Last Winter. Because once the giant catfish shows up, everything plays out exactly like any other crappy creature feature, inept even in its half-hearted attempts at titillation and gore. You might be inclined to applaud a horror movie that relies exclusively on practical effects, but you can only get so far dragging a big rubber bug-eyed catfish through a small lake. These are the kind of practical effects that make you long for a little CG.
If you want a movie about people trapped by something in the water, see Black Water. Actually, see Black Water anyway. And if you want to see what a brilliant filmmaker Fessenden can be, you’re going to have to go back to Wendigo.