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Thursday, November 25, 2010

BENEATH STILL WATERS -- movie review by porfle

I have a thing about big, dark bodies of water--I hate 'em.  Especially lakes.  So BENEATH STILL WATERS (2005) should've creeped me out big-time.  But aside from some mildly entertaining effects and situations here and there, it never really made much of a splash with me.  (Get it?  "Waters"?  "Splash"?  Hold on, there are some more hilarious jokes in the last paragraph, too.)

The movie opens with a flashback of two little boys exploring an abandoned town in rural Spain that is gradually being flooded by a newly-built dam.  This will create a huge lake that will supposedly be a financial boon to the surrounding areas, although Mayor Borgia has pushed the deal through for other reasons, which will become frighteningly apparent later in the movie.  Meanwhile, the two boys discover a house that looks to be still occupied, and inside they find some people chained in a dungeon-like cellar.  After letting one of them go, he rips off his hood and is revealed to be an evil-looking, glowing-eyed warlock who resembles Angus Scrimm's "Tall Man" as played by an undernourished Eric Roberts on valium.  He grabs one of the boys and rips his jaws apart.  Wow, he sure is mean!  The other boy, Luis, gets away--for now.

Flash forward forty years (that always gives me such a rush) and we find Mayor Borgia's granddaughter Clara (Charlotte Salt) having creepy visions of his ghost, warning her of an impending catastrophe.  Later we'll find that the evil warlock, Mordecai Salas (Patrick Gordon) has sworn vengeance on the people who flooded his town, and picked the occasion of the dam's fortieth-anniversary celebration to carry it out.  The dam, as a visiting journalist named Dan Quarry (Mike McKell) and Clara's TV news reporter mom Teresa (Raquel Meroño) soon discover, is developing a huge crack that threatens to blow wide open at any moment, and the lake seems to be inhabited by evil seaweed that grabs people, in addition to recently-deceased corpses coming back to life to attack swimmers.  Oh, and grotesque monsters, too. 

This threatens to put a crimp in the big celebration, and the sleazy new mayor, Luca (Ricard Borrás), in the tradition of guys like Murray Hamilton's Mayor Vaughn in JAWS, wants the local cops to sweep all this bad news under the rug.  But this becomes more and more difficult to do as more people start dying horribly and Salas starts popping up all over the place, ripping people's jaws apart and stuff. 

Director Brian Yuzna (the RE-ANIMATOR sequels, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD III) never really manages to build up any steadily-increasing sense of dread or suspense here--it's mainly just a series of set pieces that don't come together all that well.  There is some interesting stuff along the way, though--the underwater scenes of Quarry diving to the bottom of the lake and investigating the sunken town are eerie, and the creature effects are passable.  I found the part where Teresa stumbles upon a possessed cop gleefully sawing his own legs off to be rather startling, especially when he starts crawling after her, laughing. 

This film is somewhat reminiscent of John Carpenter's THE FOG, as both movies involve a town being overrun by the vengeful dead during an ill-fated anniversary celebration.  In fact, it kinda made me wish I was watching THE FOG.  The big party itself, attended by local civic leaders, clergy, and other upstanding citizens, degenerates under the influence of the encroaching evil forces into a violent, perverse orgy that provides some entertainment, although the sequence feels like it belongs in another movie. 

BENEATH STILL WATERS at times has the feel of a cheap Italian horror flick that will do anything, logic be damned, to gross you out or make ya go "huh?"  This occurred to me in particular as Salas was magically causing a certain character to twirl around in the air after slicing through his own Achilles tendons. (Yowch!)  And what do you think Salas does to him after that?  Well, he rips his jaws apart, of course.  There's a lot of gore in this movie, and it's mostly pretty well done.  And a couple of shock cuts that might make you jump an eighth of an inch or so.

McKell is a likable lead as Quarry, the scuba-diving journalist, and Meroño and Salt make an okay mother-daughter team who, being direct descendants of Salas' nemesis, Mayor Borgia, find themselves the main targets of the evil warlock's vengeance.  (Which means, as you might guess, that he's just achin' to rip their jaws apart.)  But while a few amusing vignettes occur here and there, the whole is disappointingly less than the sum of its body parts.  Even the timeworn "gotcha!" ending didn't quite get me.  So while BENEATH STILL WATERS isn't all wet, it didn't exactly make me wet my pants, either. 

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