Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gauges to Displace Your Fears

Below (2002)
directed by David Twohy
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

You only have to watch David Twohy at work in the first two minutes of the “making of” featurette to realize why Below wasn’t ever going to be better than mediocre. Directors like Twohy will always be just as interested in cracking jokes with the crew behind a camcorder as they will be in the movie itself. Kubrick he’s not (but who is?), but Below does two things really well. First, it tells a ghost story, the best of all possible movie premises. Second, it sets the story in World War II. Historical horror movies make the usual set-up of a modern day horror film unnecessary. You can still have teenagers (in this case, the crew of a US submarine), but the requisite (more often distracting) hormones of the cast are controlled by the military’s chain of command.

That leaves a lot of time and a lot of room to play in the dark. Twohy even adds a few flourishes of real wonder – manta rays attracted to flashlights, say, or the contrast between the black of a ship’s barracks and the infinite edge of the ocean beyond – but always has to feed the slow-motion bravado of his inner Stallone. Das Boot, I suppose, was a ghost story even before it began, but it’s nice too see a face in the half-light of a hatchway in the hall.