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Friday, February 17, 2012

BENEATH THE DARKNESS -- DVD review by porfle

Usually any horror movie featuring a weirdo mortician with a yen for necrophilia can't help having at least some measure of giddy, ghoulish fun.  But BENEATH THE DARKNESS (2011) manages to have very little fun with its subject at all.

The bland acting of the leads doesn't help, especially Tony Oller's dead-fish performance as apathetic high-schooler Travis, who drifts through life after apparently seeing a ghost at his dying sister's bedside.  Aimee Teegarden (SCREAM 4) tries a little harder as his cheerleader girlfriend Abby, but with dialogue that doesn't ring true and a by-the-numbers plot, neither she nor Travis and Abby's fun-loving friends Brian and Danny (Stephen Lunsford, Devon Werkheiser) come off as anything more than cardboard cutouts. 

After a somewhat interesting prologue which demonstrates early on just how crazy Dennis Quaid's mortician Mr. Ely is, the story settles into a snail's pace and stays there.  As nothing else seems to be going on in their sleepy Texas town, the kids start spying on Ely's supposedly haunted house until they spot his silhouette on the windowshade, dancing with a woman in his arms. 

Since his wife's been dead for two years, they suspect--well, I'm not really sure what they suspect, but they break into his house while he's gone and make a bizarre discovery, which, of course, no one will believe when they report it, even after one of the kids turns up dead as a result. 

With the sheriff (Brett Cullen) and everyone else taking Ely's side in the matter, it's up to Travis and Abby to get the goods on him by breaking into his house yet again.  This time they get into even deeper hot water while sending Ely all the way over the edge into what passes, in the case of a not-really-trying-all-that-hard Dennis Quaid, for total gibbering coo-coo. 

Unfortunately, Quaid's character just isn't developed anywhere near its potential as an eccentric oddball, and what should've been a really giddy-creepy spook tale turns out to be sub-par movie-of-the-week stuff that feels more like a low-level suspense thriller (or run-of-the-mill TV episode) than a macabre chiller. 

Ely isn't much of a menacing figure, so we never feel as though Travis and Abby are in any more danger than the kind the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew faced on a regular basis.  And their actions are often improbably stupid, as when Ely grabs a fleeing Abby and Travis simply runs away and leaves her there in order to get his wounds attended to.  (He comes back for her later, but really...)

There are a few attempts to generate chills, with Ely displaying a penchant for burying people alive in addition to his uncomfortably close relationship with his long-dead wife.  Still, none of it is morbid enough to be really macabre, nor is it funny enough to qualify as black humor--in fact, the film has very little actual humor at all.  Everything finally comes to a mildly suspenseful conclusion that depends largely on Geoff Zanelli's driving musical score for excitement. 

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras include a very brief making-of short and a trailer.

BENEATH THE DARKNESS qualifies as mildly passable entertainment if you're in an undemanding mood.  But it's worth watching only on the most basic time-waster level, and after you've spent an hour-and-a-half on it you might feel kind of like the guy in the old commercial who used to whack himself in the head and lament, "Wow--I coulda had a V8!" 

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