film review: Below ***

After seeing Below, you’ll never want to be on a haunted submarine during World War II again. Below is a dark and dramatic ghost tale set on a submarine, and despite its seemingly aberrant plot, the film’s characters are easy to relate to. Although the film is set in a time and place where no college student has ever been (at least sober), the movie drags its viewers through the screen and into a spooky world aboard the USS Tiger Shark.

We learn that the sub has faced rough times from the start of its voyage. Its captain was lost in a freak accident, or so the crew is told, and the men aboard have weathered a string of mechanical failures. Then, they stop to pick up three survivors from a downed hospital boat, and this is where the ghost story begins to unravel.

Director David Twohy, who also co-wrote the screenplay, follows his other impressive sci-fi sleepers, The Arrival and Pitch Black, with this cool and entertaining film. Twohy’s techniques in lighting and camera movements are top notch, and the music is exciting and scary.

The majority of the film is spent guiding the audience through a strange mix of movie genres. Everyone has seen submersible action flicks like Crimson Tide and Run Silent Run Deep. Likewise, everyone has seen those modern horror movies where good guys turn around and see bad guys, who always seem to attack on cue with sharp musical notes. Then, of course, there is the social aspect, where tough guys crammed in tight quarters have to deal with a lone female occupant, one of the rescued survivors.

Twohy balances these genres with ease, quickly alternating from one to the other, and intertwining them in moments of cinematic brilliance. Along with these moments, however, come a few dead ends.

In the beginning, the men seem ready to jump all over the woman, but never do. A senior officer on the sub, played by Matt Davis (Legally Blonde), seems to be the woman’s only friend, but nothing develops between them. There is also a scene where the girl looks to be pining for the ship’s captain, but this goes nowhere. Even the ending of the film is left way too open to satisfy audiences.

Darren Aronofsky, who gained critical acclaim and cult status for his low budget dramas Pi and Requiem for a Dream, co-wrote the script for Below, and was planning to direct before he chose Requiem instead. Aronofsky would have given the film a much more dramatic feel, developing its characters further and focusing more on their struggle. Twohy creates a more kinetic film, with guys running around and shouting, and scary things popping out from all directions.

That is not to say he fails with character development. By the end, the personalities of the few, lucky remaining characters possess their own shape and feel, a difficult task when each appears to be a stereotypical grungy sailor. Still, Twohy’s focus/goal is on scaring and exciting people, and he succeeds with ease.

Shawn Wines can be reached at