Let’s go below.
The Devil Below is a recent horror film that wants to remind you of the claustrophobic terror of The Descent and the social isolation of 30 Days of Night. We follow Arianne (Alicia Sanz), a Lara Croft-esque tracker who is hired by Darren (Adam Canto) and his group of idiots to find a long shutdown mine in a long-abandoned town called Shookum Hills. Decades ago, the mine is shut down after something attacks the mine owner’s son. The owner, Schuttmann (Will Patton) now works to keep people away and keep the creatures below contained.
Our merry band of adventurers do not know there are strange creatures in the mind and assume that there is some other (possibly nefarious) reason for the closure. Shawn (Chinaza Uche) our religious conspiracy theorist thinks that the U.S. government was running experiments on finding a pit to hell and references the Russian mine where weird and creepy noises could be heard. Even though the sounds from the Russian mine have a scientific explanation, I guess conspiracy is funner?
However, our heroes have to get through the backwoods to even find the mine. Does this sound like an interesting setup? It is. The story is painfully derivative, complete with a “don’t go up that road” advice from the grizzled locals. Derivative narratives are fine depending on your mood. For me, this movie seemed to have no intention of completely remaking the genre, and instead leaned into tried-and-true tropes to make a serviceable package.
The problem is that this film can only hope to hit the level of serviceable. Our characters waiver between fine and boring. Each one has a singular trait that is more or less their only driving presence in each scene. Attempts to develop them come off as stilted and unrealistic. When someone asks Darren about why he chose Arianne as their guide it seems a little odd to a) have this conversation five feet from her, and b) to wait until they’ve already hiked for an entire day to ask this question. The attempts to rush us towards the scares come at the detriment of the character development.
These odd moments of the film aren’t terrible alone, but once we start adding them up it becomes a bit frustrating. Information isn’t given to the characters for them to grow and react to; rather, it is a vessel for people to dump exposition for the audience. The characters aren’t stupid here (not by horror standards anyway), but they’re never given enough autonomy to seem clever, either.
The tension works best when we don’t know what is going on. As more is revealed the film slogs. The monsters are told to be more threatening than they are. On screen, they seem slow (albeit strong) and somewhat clumsy. The biggest threat they seem to possess is the ability to teleport near side characters in the darkness for cheap jump scares. I’ll admit though, I did jump at one of the jump scares and hung my head in shame for falling for it.
A lot of folks (critics and viewers) have dumped on this film. You might read this review as overly negative as well, but this isn’t my intent. The film is okay, but that’s about it. It never offended me with its writing or directing. The characters are fine enough, and the pacing works well. For all other faults, the film does pace itself adeptly. The worst part about this movie is that it isn’t memorable. It makes for a fine enough evening viewing, but I don’t see it developing much of a following.
Is it worth seeing? We enjoyed our evening with it even if it didn’t move us in a profound way. For a horror rental (particularly for viewers who don’t want their horror extreme) this one is serviceable.