Every once in awhile you stumble across a film that will make you stop what you’re doing and simply…watch. Captivated, out of genuine (or morbid) curiosity, you take it all in and once it is over you know that you won’t likely be forgetting the experience any time soon. That’s what THE DARK BELOW, from Doug Schulze, was for me. Using a very interesting approach to storytelling the film held my attention from start to finish, and aside from a bit of dragging in the final act, I found myself wholly invested in the lives of these characters that we learn so little about. Starring Lauren Mae Schaeffer and David G.B. Brown, the film is a 70 minute, highly conceptualized thrill-ride comprised of little to no dialogue yet still manages to tell a complete story from start to finish.
The film opens on our leading lady, who is being dragged out onto a frozen lake by an unnamed serial killer. After he dresses her in scuba gear, he drops her beneath the lake’s frozen surface where we will see her attempt at survival over the course of the next hour. It plays on an age old concept, I believe the saying refers to being stuck between a rock and a hard place, in which she must either remain plunged in her icy tomb, or attempt to defeat the killer waiting for her to re-emerge from the dark below (see what I did there?). The rest of the film is interspersed with the struggle and plenty of exposition to explain how the events on screen came to be.
As I mentioned, there is little to no dialogue and when I say little-to-no, what I mean is virtually none. I believe I counted one line of dialogue, comprised of 4, maybe 5 words. Knowing this about the film, it’s to be expected that there will be plenty of exposition that may come off a tad bit cheesy, or over-acted, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that our two leads handled their respective parts very well and delivered fine performances. We also get a fun appearance from Veronica Cartwright, who some of you may remember from ALIEN, playing Schaeffer’s mother, at least what I assume is her mother. I don’t want to say too much about the plot, as I felt much of the fun of the film was learning about these characters and the events played out. The lack of dialogue only aided in this aspect. As a viewer, I felt that I was more connected to it due to this fact. I was invested in what was happening on screen as it felt more like a spectacle than your average independent film. If anything, I was amazed at how captivated I was while watching a film without dialogue. Perhaps this is why mimes found any sort of popularity in the first place.
I will say this, however, I do not think that this film would have worked had it not been for the soundtrack courtesy of Eric Bobo (Cypress Hill, The Beastie Boys). Orchestral and grand at times yet dour and muted when it needed to be, the soundtrack complemented the action on screen very well and did exactly what any good horror soundtrack should do: it guided the viewer down the emotional journey needed to appreciate the film as a whole.
Overall, I enjoyed THE DARK BELOW and what it brought to the screen. It felt fresh and new, and while the lack of dialogue could have very easily come off as cheap and somewhat of a gimmick, it was handled very well by a strong cast and crew. To be honest, the film left me feeling conflicted in that I know I did not hate it, I’m not sure if I loved it, but I do know that I enjoyed the hour I spent watching it. THE DARK BELOW is now available in select theaters in LA and will be in select theaters in NYC on March 24th from Parade Deck films.