'The Dark Below': Film Review

Courtesy of Dead Wait Productions
This gimmicky genre effort fails to do justice to its intriguing concept.

A woman struggles to survive in a frozen lake in Douglas Schulze's near-silent horror film.

Pedestrian execution undercuts the high concept of Douglas Schulze's near-silent horror film about a young woman trapped in a freezing lake by a determined killer. While its intriguing setup sounds like it could make for a provocative and original thriller, The Dark Below never lives up to its promise, although it earns points for originality.

The story begins with Rachel (Lauren Mae Shafer) — at least that's her name as provided in the credits — being attacked by a burly man (David G.B. Brown) who strangles her, forces a drug down her throat and puts her in a wet suit. Then he drags her outside a cabin to a frozen lake, where he outfits her with an almost empty oxygen tank and shoves her underwater. The idea, apparently, is to make her death look like an accident.

As the desperate woman struggles to survive, flashbacks reveal that her attacker is her husband, with whom she has a child, and that being a serial killer was apparently one of his aspects that she somehow missed in their relationship. The only other significant character figuring in these scenes is Rachel's mother; she's played by genre veteran Veronica Cartwright (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), who delivers the film's best performance.

Most of the action depicts Rachel struggling to breathe in the small area between the ice-cold water and the frozen surface, having to retreat underwater every time her assailant spots her and prevents her from escaping. But the proceedings are not nearly as suspenseful as one would imagine, proving dully repetitive despite the brief 75-minute running time that includes lengthy credits. Even at that, the film feels padded, with the director stretching out the thin storyline with numbingly extraneous slow motion.

The chief gimmick is the absence of dialogue, except for one three-word sentence delivered early on that proves appropriately chilling. Snippets of conversation heard during the flashback scenes are muffled and indecipherable, yet the general banality of the situations won't leave you straining to hear them. The concept doesn't add much to the overall effect, although it does provide the opportunity for a catchy ad line: "Silence is the most powerful scream," which inevitably recalls "In space, no one can hear you scream" from Alien (in which Cartwright also memorably appeared).

The Dark Below also suffers from plot credibility issues and an overpowering musical score apparently intended to make up for the lack of verbiage. Horror film aficionados will probably want to check it out for the novelty factor and brazenness of its approach, and lead actress Shafer certainly deserves credit for her intense physical exertions. Non-genre fans, however, will find little here of interest.

Production: Dead Wait Productions
Distributor: Parade Deck Films
Cast: Lauren Mae Shafer, David G.B. Brown, Veronica Cartwright
Director: Douglas Schulze
Screenwriters: Douglas Schulze, Jonathan D'Ambrosio
Producers: Kurt Eli Mayry, Kathryn J. McDermott, Douglas Schulze
Executive producer: Seth Willenson
Director of photography: Robert Skates
Production designer, editor: Jonathan D'Ambrosio
Costume designer: Cheryl Marie Freeman
Composer: David Bateman
Not rated, 75 min.


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