Thursday, June 28, 2012

Beneath the Darkness (2011)

     I guess I am a bit of a fan of Dennis Quaid.  If I were to look at it objectively, I would realize that there is no reason to be.  Sure, there are films like Breaking Away (1979), The Right Stuff (1983), D.O.A. (1988), and Smart People (2008) that are in the decent to great range where Quaid's performance matters.  But there are many more awful – albeit some in a very enjoyable way – movies featuring Quaid.  The brief list is Jaws 3D (1983), Enemy Mine (1985; I respect what they were going for, but Enemy Mine drags for its entire running time), Innerspace (1987), Flesh and Bone (1993), DragonHeart (1996; now, if you didn't go in expecting the action movie the trailers promised, you are likely to view DragonHeart as a fun fantasy action-comedy with heart), Switchback (1997), Traffic (2000; I know Traffic was widely praised, but I found it to be a disaster that was simultaneously too obvious and lacking in having a substantive point addressed by the material), Cold Creek Manor (2003), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), Flight of the Phoenix (2004), the remake of Yours, Mine, and Ours (2005), Vantage Point (2005; I don't want to fault Quaid for the overall quality of the film – the plot is just rife with holes), Legion (2009), and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009; see Vantage Point for fitting criticism).  But there is something likeable about Quaid, a rough charisma that works when he is the man forced into the 'heroic' role.  As a villain, he has a tendency to overact to the point of ridiculousness.
     Put Beneath the Darkness (2011) in that category.  Quaid plays Ely Vaughn, who runs the local funeral parlor in a Texas small town.  It being in Texas is kind of thrown in as an aside, as no one has much of a Texan accent (from any part of the state) and the people certainly don't seem as devoted to high school football as they are suggested to be by TV, movies, and real life.  The sheriff does where a cowboy hat, but a lot of lower budget movies struggle to find distinctive headwear for small town sheriffs.  Anyway, Ely is mildly creepy guy who recently lost his wife.  Well, she is dead but decidedly not lost.  Movie wouldn't work if she were dead and lost.
      Ely is also a kind of obsessive whose tendencies are restricted to one particular province of his life.  While I'm sure somebody thought this was a good idea – because many obsessives can lead functional lives – it plays as both false and as being an obvious plot device.  What kind of guy would Ely be if he didn't keep his dead wife's body around for company?  What movie would there be?
     Chances are, a much better one.  Much of the time given to the Ely character is utterly wasted, especially given how Quaid has no consistent physicality for the character.  Is he the guy who can shrink into himself, blend in to a crowd, and appear to be the mild-mannered minder of the dead, or the brute who can lift a high school athlete off his feet by grabbing him – one-handed – about the neck?  Similarly, the teen protagonists/potential victims are given a fair amount of screen time only to be developed in clichéd broad strokes.  Even the circumstances that should make Travis (Tony Oller) unique come across like they were borrowed from The X-Files (1993-2002) and number of supernatural themed low-budget horror movie.
     For some reason, it isn't supposed to matter that Travis steals the star QB/kind-of-friend's girlfriend.  Now, if I am going to be honest in my recollection, my friends in high school didn't mind going after girls other guys (even friends) were dating.  How much more miserable would I be today if I had followed that route?  But seldom is this kind of behavior endorsed as being appropriate for teen heroes in a (soft) horror film.  The girlfriend in question is Abby, played by Aimee Teegarden.  Teegarden comes across as the kind of actress forced upon audiences, the kind that is serviceable but not quite ready for a good deal of screen time.  Moreover, she comes across as though she were playing an updated Topanga Lawrence from Boy Meets World (1993-2000).
     The are holes in the story that could have been covered with better dialogue and maybe two days of reshoots.  Instead, they stand as a testament that Beneath the Darkness was operating well beneath the desired budget.  The action, what little there is, is lifeless; the suspense nonexistent.  There are worse movies, certainly, but few that seem to be fighting every chance to elevate themselves from sub-mediocrity every step of the way.  I'm not sure Beneath the Darkness has enough of its various elements to satisfy any crowd.  It is too soft for horror fans, too lacking in suspense for thriller junkies, and too stingy with the emotions of the teens to satisfy younger viewers. 

No comments:

Post a Comment