What do you get when you mix a ghost story with a WWII submarine action-adventure? The snooze-inducing Below, B-movie director David Twohy’s bland spookfest about a US submarine’s problems with a pesky specter. Lt. Brice (Bruce Greenwood) and his US submarine crew pick up a stranded trio, including a fetching female doctor (Olivia Williams), after their medical ship is destroyed in the high seas without warning; at the same time, it also appears that a ghost has decided to hitch along for the remainder of the ride. Unfortunately, the mystery surrounding the creepy stowaway is anything but, and it doesn’t take long for this ludicrously predictable film to reveal that the uninvited guest may be the apparition of the sub’s original captain, who suspiciously fell overboard while checking out the remnants of a destroyed German ship. As with his superior The Arrival and Pitch Black, Twohy has a knack for genre material, and his film satisfactorily handles the conventions of a submarine film—depth charges, creaking bulkheads, and hushed tension abound as the crew tries to manage their ghostly intruder while avoiding the attack of a German warship. What’s missing, however, is any sense of surprise or fright. The screenplay (written by Twohy, Lucas Sussman, and Requiem for a Dream director Darren Aronofsky) provides a familiar assortment of stock characters—the arrogant lieutenant, the chauvinist prankster, the kooky recluse, the rookie hero—a foreseeable explanation for the film’s supernatural events, and not a single good scare. The cast (including “Felicity”‘s Scott Foley and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels’ Jason Flemyng and Dexter Fletcher) acquits itself nicely, but without a formidably menacing creature, they’re merely left stranded amid Twohy’s nifty but pointless camera tricks. Miramax was right on the money when they released Below with little fanfare—the suits knew that the eventual home for this disappointingly lifeless effort was the bottom of the Blockbuster bargain bin.
This 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a resounding success, with incredible image detail and color reproduction giving the picture an impressive depth and clarity-only one scene (taking place outside the submarine's interior) features any color bleeding. No film grain or print blemishes are present and flesh tones appear natural. The transfer's only negative aspect is a regular amount of edge enhancement, with the film's most darkly-lit scenes featuring constant ringing halos on image edges. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is a thing to behold, with resounding bass and exciting directional effects contributing to the film's claustrophobic atmosphere. Fidelity is solid and accurate, although given the bombast of the action-packed scenes, it would have been nice if the film's dialogue-which, for the most part, is natural and clear-had occasionally been given more prominence in the mix.
The highlight of this Miramax release is an audio commentary with director Twohy and actors Bruce Greenwood, Matt Davis, Holt McCallany, Zach Galifianakis and Nick Chinlund. Although a bit overcrowded (it's sometimes difficult to figure out who's speaking), the participants do a nice job alternating between explaining the production's technical aspects and recounting humorous anecdotes about filming. The commentary offers non-stop discussion for fans eager to learn more about how the film was put together, even if Twohy frequently seems uninterested in contributing anything substantive. A mildly informative featurette entitled The Process runs 12 minutes and features some decent interview footage with Twohy and behind-the-scenes video footage of the production. Three wisely deleted scenes with Twohy commentary, as well as the film's theatrical trailer, round out the disc's supplemental features.
Twohy has yet to make a great genre film so it's likely that moviegoers will want to give Below das boot.