At first, the title of Larry Fessenden’s new film seems to refer only to the ginormous man-eating fish, a B-movie gene splice of a catfish and Jocelyn Wildenstein, that indiscriminately taunts and attacks a bunch of friends as they try to cross the lake where the ostensibly prehistoric ghoulie resides. It’s pretty rote sailing until the monster takes a piece out of a girl’s arm and her friends start screaming at the thing as if they were elbowing Jennifer Love Hewitt (“What do you want?!”). Amusingly, if predictably, the fish snatches away their oars and, later, their water cooler; less expected is when the friends begin to discuss how, in order to paddle to shore with their fish-snacky hands, they should probably start using each other as bait. And so, in tense conversations wherein this motley group of nerds and jocks try to defend their value as human beings so as not to be chucked overboard, Beneath casually reveals its interest in dragging to the surface everything that far dumber horror movies before it have not. But to say that the film is Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians by way of Alfred Hitchock’s Lifeboat is to give it way too much credit.
Beneath doesn’t exactly dress the part of a subversive movie experience, boasting a single impressive set piece (a creative strangulation whose geometry suggests a mouse trap waiting to be sprung) that’s rather classical in design, as well as one shot of a bloody hand half-submerged that’s as striking in its expressionistic beauty as every other image that surrounds it is sadly nondescript. And while it’s refreshing to see a character in this sort of movie weep at the prospect of having to inform her dead friend’s mother how her daughter met her demise, which is to say how no dummy who’s ever been chased by Jason Vorhees around Crystal Lake has ever behaved, the film’s level of feeling begins and ends there, with its stance toward every dipshit slasher and creature-horror flick that’s come before it never feeling less than casually hostile. Beneath is moralizing without actually attempting moral examination, and at the end of its story’s long day, it has delivered onto us the same old human meat puppets we’re used to seeing on the horror-movie circuit. Virgins and sluts are shamed, with the virile jocks expectedly getting off easy; the difference here is that everyone is given equal time during their predictable march to slaughter to vent their unearned sense of entitlement.