A young, ambitious journalist meets up with a mysterious woman in the middle of nowhere as she has a big revelation for him. She puts him through a lot before starting to talk and having things take a bad turn. Written by Nathan Williams and Matthew Williams and directed by Nathan Williams, this thriller gains from its simplicity. The setting is almost desolate with fields and wind farms as far as the eye can see and mountain background.
The characters total in four with two of them doing the bulk of the talking for most of the movie and great stretches of silences. The film is simple, yet effective. It takes its simplicity as far as can be with this subject and it helps it great in terms of building tension and even a bit of dread. The characters they build are solid in terms of who they are. The journalist is a curious young man wanting his first big break badly, the lady he meets is mysterious as she needs to be for survival. The other two characters have very little about them revealed and it works that way, they need to be giant balls of questions marks for the film’s tension’s sake and they are exactly that.
The lead part of Abe is played by actor Conner Marx who has done mostly shorts, television series, and independent films so far. Here he is fairly charismatic as a man finding his footing in his career. He gives a performance that keeps the attention on him most of the time. In the part of Debra, the mysterious woman, is Carol Roscoe who never fully reveals her character or her intentions, adding secrecy, paranoia, and stress to her part as she gets ready to give away a big secret that could end her career and her life.
In the other two parts or Mooney and Schafer, two men who are practically shadows with very little about them being revealed but their presence being a menace, are Mark Carr and Paul Budraitis. Both actors do well here with Carr’s presence being more felt on screen and in the story. Their chemistry with the other characters creates a looming dread. The film’s cinematography by Christopher Messina established the desolate location and feeling of the settings and shows their quiet beauty. It’s a place most people living in the middle of the country know and understand while city-dwellers can dream of the calm locations shown here.
He frames the players in a manner that they become the evident center of attention in this beautiful land and it gives them and their actions more presence. While the film is not silent, there is not music to speak of. A few times there are sounds other than people talking, cars’ engines, and nature sounds, but those happen rarely and are minimal in presence and volume. The film has no score which in a world used to scores and soundtrack says something in and of itself. The negative audio space it creates adds to the scenes and the tension between the characters and their situation. This is something that can easily backfire but works like a charm here.
If There’s a Hell Below is a taut, simple thriller that plays on some of the current paranoia and fears in this country and on the stories heard about other governmental whistleblowers. It’s written and directed to be as simple as possible, with good performances and cinematography that adds to the desolation and tension. The lack of music works like a charm in this films and helps round out the feeling of growing dread as it moves forward.