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‘The Dark Below’ (review)

Produced by Kurt Eli Mayry,
Kathryn J. McDermott, Douglas Schulze
Story by Douglas Schulze, Jonathan D’Ambrosio
Written and Directed by Douglas Schulze
Starring  Lauren Mae Shafer, David G.B. Brown,
Veronica Cartwright,Zachary Levine


A woman is dragged by a man to an icy lake. The man slips her into a wetsuit and flippers and slaps an oxygen tank on her back (after letting out most of the oxygen).  He then plops her into the lake and shovels snow and ice over the opening, thus ensuring her death, it would seem.

The cool premise and nifty poster suggest a tense cat-and-mouse between killer and unwilling victim. And the mostly very positive reviews from the film’s festival screenings would suggest we’ve got an interesting, stylish thriller on our hands.

I honestly haven’t the faintest idea what the supporters of this snoozefest were watching. Or drinking. Or smoking.

Admittedly, some films just play better at festivals than on computer screens. I’ve been to a LOT of festival screenings and championed films that I later watched at home and wondered why I was so enamored of them in the first place.

But this film, at a mere 75 minutes including end credits, is one of the dullest slogs I’ve ever suffered through.

I admire the IDEA of making a thriller with only three words of spoken dialogue, but the execution here is a disaster, with character motivation and identification mostly absent or confusing to the point I began to become angry with the film before the midway point.

Initially, I was rooting for the woman. Human nature. We want to see the victim of a potential murderer survive and for justice to prevail.

But despite the game efforts of actress Lauren Mae Shafer, I began to root for the killer after a while.  Partially to stay awake, but mostly because for someone who apparently wants to survive, she acts like a complete idiot.

When the killer first attacks her, she stands still and waits for him to run across the room and grab her without any struggle.  There are several points in the film wherein she knows the killer is approaching and takes her sweet time trying to hide or get away. At the same time, the approaching killer should be able to plainly see her scampering away (FINALLY), and yet when he arrives, acts as though he has no clue where she’s hiding.

Speaking of taking its sweet time, The Dark Below feels like a short film expanded to feature length solely by filmed almost entirely in slow motion! Everything that occurs on screen takes forever – backed by operatic, ludicrously over-the-top, synth/choral music – and becomes almost comical, if it weren’t so frustratingly boring.

If you’re looking for a solid thriller, you’ll find more suspense and thrills in Andy Warhol’s Empire than you’ll find here. What a waste.

The Dark Below opens in limited release in theaters, today.

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