Written and Directed by Mike Lenzini
Starring Blake Farris, Mark Matthews, Jamie Carvelli, Scott McAdam
Indie Film Review by Jack Bottomley
There is a lot to be said for a film that defies an easy way out. Truth be told, a lot of films these days come with a great level of expectation and when you see a set-up you recognise, experience dictates the way things will go from there. However, it can be satisfying when a filmmaker actually refuses to cave in to convention and in the case of Underneath, a low budget indie assembled in around 10 days, there is a lot of familiarity in its narrative but also a lot of raging against the machine that is the genre.
The film looks at Eric (Blake Farris), a man clinging to his past, as his wife and child have left him and his wife is begging for the divorce papers to be signed. Then, one afternoon, a stranger comes knocking and makes a mistake he won’t soon regret. The plot, despite a few nice looking exterior shots (that make good use of DOP Sean Gearing’s imagery), is mostly confined indoors and later down underneath ground level (the literal meaning of the title), as this dark drama plays out and owes much to the confinement narratives of certain horror/suspense offerings but comes to owe a great deal more to films like The Tortured and Hard Candy, as the psychological and moral dimensions to the story play out. In fairness, you have seen films like this before and its ‘hunter becomes hunted’ narrative is not a new thing (The Collector) but Underneath does get beneath the skin of its characters in a very commendable way and by the end, things play out in an uncomfortingly realistic manner that feels unexpected and refreshingly leaves you with a lingeringly corruptive and bleak ending.
Director/Writer/Editor Mike Lenzini sidesteps the conventional trappings of his concept by embracing the bubbling philosophies beneath his central double act. While some of the performances initially seem a tad sluggish, it is as if both central actors really ease into their characters and it helps that Lenzini keeps the pressure on each of them physically and mentally. You might say there is a small whiff of Saw about the themes but this is far more horror/drama than gory thriller and the story really has a lot more time for you to ponder and absorb the concise plot being unfurled. Chances are you may be a step ahead of the game in some ways if you are a fan of films of this ilk but the confidence and ballsy way in which Lenzini looks at how good can be blackened and how hope can be annihilated is unnervingly effective and will leave many shocked and with lingering questions of who deserved what, where your sympathies lie and what could have happened if things had gone differently. There are few pure edges to this tale and as it reaches its resolution, the ones that are there have been lost to the immoral.
The make-up and special FX by Katie Jacobs are fantastic and help to give this a really raw feel, that adds all the more to the raising tensions and eventual unsureness of whether or not the filmmaker will pull the trigger and go fully dark (oh boy does he). Farris is brilliant in the lead, a bulking presence who eventually is revealed to have trapped a great deal of anger and pain within, while the man at the door is disturbingly realistic and Mark Matthews in the role comes to be far more than a plain cut baddie despite initial cliché concerns.
Underneath challenges you to look beyond a crime, beyond an action, beyond the anger and dive into some cynical human emotions and tragic ideologies of loss and its destructive aftershocks. By the time the atmospheric original song “Run” by Jason Devore plays, there is no running, you are confronted by the film’s outlook and must face it and assess just what you would do and what should they have done? Underneath sees a director, on a low budget, assemble a team that startlingly and impacfully work hard to make their concept mean something more and they very much succeed.