Wednesday, 13th December 2017. 3:42:52pm ET
Movie: Below
Company: Buena Vista Home Video
Format: VHS
Reviewer: Joshua Heinrich
Date: 2/5/04

Below, a recent (and abnormally successful) entry into the world of horror-oriented genre crossovers, combines the premise of a World War 2 submarine film with elements of supernatural and psychological horror. Set in 1943, the movie's plot begins when the crew of an American submarine is ordered to reverse course and travel back to pick up the survivors of a sunken British medical vessel, including a female doctor and two men (one being an injured patient). Soon after the rescue, they are attacked by a German craft and forced to flee and remain underwater to avoid detection. Unfortunately for the crew, unexplained occurrences, voices, and visions begin to plague those on the submarine. Is there a saboteur on board or something far more sinister? The answer becomes more apparent as the sub's new passengers and crew begin to question the events surrounding their former commanding officer's death while fighting for survival aboard the damaged submarine.

Below largely leaves out the war movie staple of grandiose battle scenes to concentrate on the interpersonal relationships of the crew members as well as the film's mystery and horror elements. The few battle scenes that do exist are shown almost exclusively from the point of view of the submarine's crew, helping to convey the isolated, tense atmosphere aboard the submarine. The real meat of the film centers on its mystery and psychological horror elements as those aboard try to uncover buried secrets from the recent past while dealing with their current situation. There's also a healthy dose of supernatural horror, primarily focused on hearing voices and brief glimpses of creepy imagery. While the horror elements are certainly used sparingly, they're also quite effective in creating a genuinely eerie, unsettling atmosphere. While the plot is essentially the story of a World War 2 submarine with scarce horror elements, the mood and atmosphere of the film play up the horror/mystery elements to create something that often feels more like a haunted house movie set on a submarine.

Adding to the atmosphere are the visuals and sounds. At times contrasting dark blue coloring outside the vessel with the dark red glow of emergency lights inside the sub, the film's general visual elements are both stylish and effective at creating an unsettling, sometimes claustrophobic environment. The horror visuals, while usually only involving a brief, almost subliminal, glimpse of something otherworldly, are actually quite chilling. Even with visuals this outstanding, the sound effects are several notches above them. The psychologically effective standard of cracks and creaks found in haunted house films is taken to the next level here, with the ceaseless eerie sounds of the deep ocean and echoing pinging of the submarine's metal exterior. Against a backdrop of silence and isolation in the deep sea, we're treated to an almost nonstop aural feast of creepy muffled moans, creaks, bangs, and scraping that are as subliminally frightening and atmospheric as anything you're likely to find in a more conventional horror film.

Overall, Below is a superb film that really didn't get the release it deserves. I actually quite dislike World War 2 movies, personally, but found this to be an excellent psychological thriller/horror film with an intriguing story, great acting, and an excellent sense of atmosphere. Without relying on the in-your-face visuals and relentless action of most modern horror films, Below has far surpassed many of its peers. Fans of war films might dig this one, too, but it's certainly a title that shouldn't be overlooked by horror/thriller fans.


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