“Below” has the potential to become a truly incredible and claustrophobic horror flick, but never follows through with one genre focus. Despite being inaccurately profiled as an underwater monster flick, this is not. This is a horror film that has a story and uses it throughout the film most of the time. We get the sense that Twohy wants to push this movie to the limits but eases up in the last minutes and tends to resort to old horror clichés like the complete silence and trash that falls out of a closet, scaring the audience, and the inevitable fright pop-up of a character with a sharp booming soundtrack in the background. Director David Twohy takes this cast of characters and stores them in this small submarine letting them fend for themselves.
The oxygen is running out, the tension is high, the sanity among the crew is rapidly deteriorating, throughout the film the sub is dodging German ships left and right, and there may be a ghost on board. Twohy gives the audience many things to worry about, making the ghost topic seem only more terrifying. We hope the sub isn’t blown up by the Germans, we hope the shipmates don’t attack the Brits, and we hope the shipmates tell us what we’ve been asking: What really happened to the first ship Captain? Twohy throws all these plots onto the audiences laps and then gives us this isolated and small submarine in which the crew is forced to manage. We instantly get the sense that there’s a ghost on board with old factory ghost devices but it still manages to pack a wallop.
There’s the creepy and confusing sounds coming from outside the sub that may or may not be normal machine sounds and whales, there’s the incredible scene which Twohy skillfully orchestrates as everyone in the sub attempts to not make a sound as a German ship passes above and suddenly a record player begins playing the first captains favorite record, and finally, the creepiest moment in which Lt. Brice sees a man who may or may not be a crew member that explains why the ships lights went out. The ghosts in this film are very, very subtle in which even we, the audience begins to get the creeps. The tension and dynamic in which the ghosts appear is great and very low-key which make them all the more horrifying. We get a very brief glimpse of what may be a ghost who ends up murdering one of the crew members later, and it leaves the audience wondering if there are ghosts on board or if it’s just the crew confronting their own minds about what happened with the previous captain.
Twohy can really pack in the scares yet resorts to these annoying tricks at times. The film is also hardly interesting to begin with; people who are expecting an underwater monster here, don’t get your hopes up. The acting is sometimes dull and the characters your usual batch of shipmates as seen in “Abyss”, and “U-571”. There’s the eager ambitious young man O’Dell (Matthew Davis), the comedic relief courtesy of the funny Zach Galifianakis, the strict ship leader by Bruce Greenwood, and about two or three psychos that provide heavy obstacles for the characters. Is it a horror movie or a drama? The tonal inconsistencies kind of throw the audience off as the first half hour is simply an all out submarine flick with action and intensity and then submerges into darkness. Director Twohy relies heavily on isolation and tension for this very provoking, tense and suspenseful ghost/murder mystery but never goes all the way when it comes to creating a truly incredible horror movie.