Capitalizing on cornering the market of youths (YOUTHS!), MTV the channel expanded with MTV Films in the late ’90s, and soon spun out such classics as the cockroach comedy Joe’s Apartment, the crude cartoon feature Beavis and Butt-head Do America, and Varsity Blues, which gave us the James Van Der Beek moment for the ages.
Teamed with Paramount Pictures, MTV Films also brought forth Alexander Payne’s political satire Election, Rick Famuyiwa’s charming ode to brotherhood The Wood, and the iconic romance Save the Last Dance. But they weren’t all winners. In 2007—between Jackass Number Two and Jackass 3D, came the horror movie Beneath. You’ve probably not heard of it, because it was the first film in this cool collaboration to slide straight to DVD. But it’s new to HULU, so naturally I found my way to it. (I am drawn back again and again to the bottom-rung of horror.) I also found why this abysmal flick was better off forgotten.
Beneath begins with Christy (Brick’s Nora Zehetner) a beautiful young woman riding on a train, staring wistfully out a window. She seems sad, but why? Don’t worry, a helpful flashback will take us back several years to the graves of her parents. But don’t cry for Christy (not that one any way), she has her lively grown sister Vanessa (Carly Pope) to raise her, and let her drive the car even though she’s only 14! Guess where this is going. Did you guess a grim car accident? You’re right! And it’s so wrong.
Christy doesn’t notice debris on the road, and so spins too late to avoid it and crashes into a massive boulder that throws her free from harm, but pins her sister in the car, which is now aflame like an ominous Yankee Candle. “I can’t move my legs,” Vanessa yelps just before she’s engulfed in a fire ball, while her little sister looks on helpless. But don’t worry. Vanessa’s not dead. She’s just horribly, horribly disfigured.
In a bizarre montage, images of gruesomely burned Vanessa are intercut with a sullen Christy, who’s housed at an insane asylum. Then she’s abruptly at Vanessa’s funeral, where some rando says how “unfair” it is that Vanessa died after all. Cut to sad grown-up Christy, who is plagued by visions, which she draws in charcoal when she’s not half-heartedly begging for an internship at a hospital. Confused? Me too! And this is just at the 8 minute mark. But we’re not done racing through exposition at a blinding pace!
Vanessa’s widower John (Matthew Settle) calls grown-up and sketching Christy to inform her the caretaker that was nice to her during the funeral montage has died. He knows they haven’t talked in years, but thought she should know. Without a word, she’s taking a bus back to her hometown to go to the caretaker’s funeral. We’re 9 minutes in, and a slew of other characters will be introduced in slapdash barely scenes so they can chime in later with a bit of advice. Who has time for dialogue or character development? This a race through plot points. The Youths need instant gratification, and that means pacing your movie as if it’s on fast-forward, sense be damned!
It’s almost fun witnessing this breathless race through act one. But then things screech to a horrid halt when Christy meets the movie’s creepy kid, who speaks of “dark things” that creep in the walls and kill. With the setup done (though not to be forgotten because it will be repeated, repeatedly and clunkily), Beneath lumbers into an angry ghost plot with tedious twists, sloppy storytelling, and performances so wonky and wooden they’d be perfect for lining the walls of a chic Brooklyn bar. Even when Christy tumbles down secret passages, scrapes with violent visions, or grapples with the horrible (and deeply stupid) truth of the dark things, Beneath musters all the excitement of folding laundry, all the suspense of clipping toe nails, and all the scares of making a sandwich. (In related news, I may have done some chores and snacked while watching this.)
The ending is perfect though. Perfectly preposterous and dumb, dumb, dumb.
SPOILERS: After trying in vain to convince cops that her sister was murdered by an adulterous John, Christy busts into some graves and discovers her sister isn’t dead. See, John did cheat on her with the nurse who’s mysteriously gone missing. And Vanessa was burned, not blind, so she saw them making out, and took her revenge by stabbing the naughty nurse to death. For reasons unexplored, John and his mom decided the best thing to do would be fake Vanessa’s death so the nurse could be buried in her place, then lock burn victim Vanessa up in a basement dungeon like a monster. But neither being locked away nor being paralyzed from the waist down prevented Vanessa from making her way all over the multi-story house to spy on her daughter, kill her mother-in-law, or attack her husband. Upon finding Vanessa, Christy realizes she’s responsible for her sister’s terrible fate, and decides to care of her, just as Vanessa had once promised to do for her. But then fuck that, because Vanessa’s creepy daughter inexplicably reappears just in time to fatally stab her mother to death. So, uh. Christy will raise Vanessa’s daughter, I guess. But maybe not, because a final snapshot suggests Vanessa at the last moment got the power to possess Christy. Maybe?
What lies in Beneath is lifeless, uninspired, and dumb. With clunky cuts in action, a logic-free plot, and performances seemingly fueled by wet cardboard injections, the filmmaking is so completely incompetent, it’s almost impressive. I don’t know why I watched it. I don’t recommend you subject yourself to its torturously tedious 122 minutes. But do watch the first ten to revel in its ineptitude. It really must be seen to be believed/properly scorned.