It seems that the first rule of monster movies is to have a visually striking monster. I think we can all harken back to our first viewing of “Jaws” or “Alien” and remember the shivers that it sent down our spine. One being the fear of sharks magnified and the other an original creation that we didn’t know we were afraid of until it was displayed on the big screen. Even when the monster is successful the next step to effectiveness is to not show it often. Fear is what we don’t know, or better yet can’t know, hence keeping the visual queues to a minimum. Fast forward to Larry Fessenden’s take on a lake beast in “Beneath”, a monster movie with a title that should explain it all. Unfortunately, Fessenden takes those successful monster rules and replaces them with CGI overload, poorly written story and characters, and a monster that looks like an oversized guppy.
Johnny, played by Daniel Zovatto, along with his group of close friends travel to his childhood lake to have one more blowout party before they all part ways to college. Through subtle (sarcasm) dialogue it’s made clear that Kitty, played by Bonnie Dennison, has a special spot in her heart for Johnny even though she’s dating Matt, played by Chris Conroy. If that wasn’t enough of a love triangle, Matt’s brother Simon, played by Jonny Orsini, also has eyes for the vivacious Kitty. Along for the ride is Zeke, played by Griffin Newman, the budding filmmaker who has decided to record every detail of their excursion on his camera. Their last friend is Deb, played by Mackenzie Rosman (“7th Heaven”), who is there to teach the gang that you need two oars to properly steer a boat in the water.
The group hits the lake and trouble soon meets them in the form of a giant fish. As the friends realize that getting back to shore will not be an easy task, they begin to turn on one another. Thankfully they have the four way love square to create tension that they can discuss while being attacked by said giant fish. Alliances are formed and truths are revealed leaving friend after friend dead at the hands (jaws) of the lake monster.
In all honesty this movie has very little to offer in any department. The monster itself was at times effective visually because they actually created a practical fish to shoot. Unfortunately the amount of times the fish was CGI outweighed any headway that the practical effects created. At one point you can clearly gauge the size of the fish by the model they made, however as it attacks someone it magically grows several feet in size. On top of it all the fish is shown far too many times to be frightening anymore. The acting is passable since the actors were truly working with what they were given. The writing of the characters was sloppy and cliched to the point that not a single character on screen had any realism in their actions or feelings. There were several scenes of the friends voting on who should have to swim to get help. These constantly lead to fights that made zero sense and ultimately left us watching the most despicable characters of the group get away with murder. The four way love circle ultimately created the entire drama and tension of the story, making the monster a complete non issue at several points. Obviously there are several negatives to point out but I will say that the final four minutes were quite well done and revealed that the entire movie should have followed the tone it presented.
Larry Fessenden is not a stranger to the horror genre. He not only directed “Beneath” but several other shorts including a segment in the upcoming “ABC’s of Death 2”. He has more experience as an actor working on films like “Session 9”, “The Brave One”, “Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever”, and “The Battery”. It’s disappointing to see someone so immersed in the genre make decisions on his own horror film that seem rushed and hollow. The positive I see is from the final moments of the film which Fessenden should have created the entire movie around. “Beneath” has its moments of intrigue and tongue in cheek fun, but it never gets to a deep level like the title promises.