The Dark Below is an interesting entry in a small, but esteemed circle of a certain type of survival films.
Buried, 127 Hours, even claustrophobic horrors like As Above, So Below and The Descent (as well as single-room dramas, with Twelve Angry Men being the most classic example, as well as newer entries like Carnage) focus almost entirely on a single main character (or a small group of characters) trapped in a harsh environment for almost the entire duration of the film. In turn, the audience is trapped with them. While some, like 127 Hours, break up the intensity with flashbacks and dream sequences, others, like Buried, keep the audience stuck in one small space for the whole film, with limited camera movement or any distractions at all.
The Dark Below chooses the 127 Hours route in telling the tale of an unnamed woman who is drugged, dressed in scuba gear, and abandoned in a freezing lake under the ice. From there, the film treats the audience to some striking underwater photography and a tense, haunting soundtrack. For awhile, it’s riveting. Then, it gets a little old.
The film tries to shoehorn in a twisty plot about how she got there that’s a bit contrived and ultimately silly, with a groan-worthy payoff. It’s a poor move because the plot isn’t of particular importance. The film’s intention is to tell a tale of nail-biting survival, not to present an epic narrative twist. It also seems like a missed opportunity to not use this situation metaphorically to say something affecting and real about domestic violence and abuse of women (this would have made a far better narrative if the film needed to have one).
The filmmakers take us away from a compelling film and force us to sit through a less interesting story, as we impatiently wait to see if our hero will make it in the present. It’s the same issue I had with 127 Hours, but in the case of The Dark Below, this becomes even more frustrating due to the director’s insistence that only one sentence be spoke throughout the whole film. That’s a fascinating idea for a survival film, but not so good for dramatic scenes starring actors without the chops to pull those off sans-dialogue (for an excellent example of a modern silent film, check out The Tribe)
In the end, The Dark Below is basically a cautionary tale and a great idea that’s ruined by lacklustre execution.
The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14 to August 15. For more coverage of the festival click here.