By Don Simpson | July 16, 2013
Director: Larry Fessenden
Writers: Tony Daniel, Brian D. Smith
Starring: Daniel Zovatto, Bonnie Dennison, Chris Conroy, Jonny Orsini, Griffin Newman, Mackenzie Rosman, Mark Margolis
Johnny (Daniel Zovatto) takes five of his classmates out to his family’s land on Black Lake to celebrate their high school graduation. Notice I did not say “friends” because these associations are much more superficial than that. These are high school kids, remember, so they choose their “friends” as if selecting political allies — and it is the selfish motivations of these particular teenagers that keeps Larry Fessenden’s Beneath afloat. This is precisely why so many horror films focus on high school kids, because the power dynamics of teenagers are so damn fascinating. Besides it is their youthful know-it-all naiveté and carelessness that always seems to get them in trouble in the first place.
Kitty (Bonnie Dennison) is the blonde femme fatale, whom everyone lusts after. She is the connecting dot who brought the other five people together. Time and time again, Kitty is the source of tension in the narrative, coming between two hormonal teens. She is one of those typical popular girls who chooses to be with whichever guy has the best chance of rescuing her from mediocrity and boredom. In this case, it makes sense that Kitty is paired up with the most conventionally attractive male of the group, Matt (Chris Conroy); the jock and the alpha male who everyone else falls in line behind. Simon (Jonny Orsini) is Matt’s younger brother who has always walked in Matt’s shadow. Unable to excel at athletics like his brother, Simon finally became his own person when he scored a respectable academic scholarship. Presumably, the nerdy Zeke (Griffin Newman) is allowed to tag along for the ride because he might become a famous filmmaker some day. He promises to make Kitty a Hollywood starlet some day. In the meantime, Zeke films everything — but at least Fessenden is smart enough not try to turn Beneath into a found footage film. Last is Kitty’s friend Deb (Mackenzie Rosman). Rather than distracting some of the guys’ attention away from Kitty, Deb makes it pretty clear that she also happens to have a bit of a crush on Kitty.
With little respect for the serene natural surroundings, the teenagers carelessly set off fireworks, frolic in the icy water, and pop open the beer cooler. So much for respecting the beautiful lake and the giant flesh-eating fish lurking beneath the surface… Oh, wait, Johnny forgot to tell them about the legend of the carnivorous predator. Well, okay, Johnny does try to convince them not to go into the water, but as the meekest — and presumably the nicest — of the group nobody listens to him. When it comes down to it, the teenagers bring their fate upon themselves. If they acted like true friends to each other, maybe they would not have ended up face to face with a monstrous and toothy fish while stranded in the middle of the lake.
Beneath examines the difficult choices that these six teenagers must face. When the boat becomes a sick and twisted reality show, the characters must selfishly attempt to legitimize their existence in order to avoid ending up as fish bait. They may say that they are putting the good of the group above the good of the individuals, but every decision each individual makes is drenched in selfish motivations. It’s kind of like Survivor, but with real life consequences. Sure, these characters are just like most horror film protagonists, making one stupid decision after another; but in the context of Beneath, their stupidity actually makes perfect sense. Besides, its hard not to give Fessenden — as well as writers Tony Daniel and Brian D. Smith — credit for coming up with one clever excuse after another for keeping the protagonists’ rowboat drifting aimlessly in the middle of Black Lake.
While watching teen horror films, I like to observe how intellect, sex appeal and physical strength are weighed within the context of the narrative — specifically, which trait is deemed by the filmmaker to be the most beneficial for survival. This micro-budget horror film has some very interesting things to say about how and when the characters die, but revealing them would spoil all of the fun.