Combustible Celluloid
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With: Olivia Williams, Nick Chinlund, Matt Davis, Bruce Greenwood, Holt McCallany, Scott Foley, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher
Written by: Darren Aronofsky, Lucas Sussman, David Twohy
Directed by: David Twohy
MPAA Rating: R for language and some violence
Running Time: 105
Date: 10/11/2002

Below (2002)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Hell and Deep Water

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In an interview back in 1998, Darren Aronofsky talked about two upcoming projects. One was 2000's exceptional Requiem for a Dream (which made my top 10 list). The other was Proteus, which Aronofsky promised would be one of the scariest films ever.

In the last five years, Proteus evolved into Below, and Aronofsky appears as one of three screenwriters and one of a boatload of producers. The new director is David Twohy (The Arrival, Pitch Black), a cult favorite among sci-fi and horror fans.

Desite the complications, Below turns out to be a solid little thriller, joining a new breed scary of movies like The Sixth Sense, The Blair Witch Project, The Others, Session 9 and Wendigo. Its scares depend on well-crafted storytelling rather than copious amounts of blood or severed limbs.

It's also the second submarine movie this year, after Kathyrn Bigelow's underappreciated K-19: The Widowmaker. Set in 1943, Below takes place on an American sub, the U.S.S. Tiger Shark, which has been on patrol for seven weeks when it comes upon three British survivors of a sunken hospital ship.

Things aboard the sub haven't been going right; Lt. Brice (Bruce Greenwood) has assumed command after the sub's captain disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

Crew members whisper different versions of the events, trying to sort out the truth, while levelheaded ensign Douglas O'Dell (Matt Davis), on his first mission, tries to keep the men calm.

And even though the men consider the female member (Olivia Williams) of the British crew a jinx, she's hardly to blame for what happens next.

The Tiger Shark keeps running into a German sub, its air begins running out (the hydrogen mix gets too strong), and someone keeps putting on a Benny Goodman record whenever Brice orders silent running.

Half of what goes wrong can be blamed on technical malfunctions, but the other half is just downright spooky. (One scene involving a mirror gave me the willies.)

Even with the film's low budget, Twohy and his writers do everything right. Minimal sets used to maximum advantage keep us off-balance, continually bringing up but never answering the question of whether supernatural forces are at work.

A crew member who's an avid comic book reader even proposes his own supernatural ending: "What if we were killed during that explosion and those noises we're hearing are rescue workers from the land of the living?"

Because the film actually brings it up, we know we can rule out that ending... but not before we consider it for a moment.

Thankfully, the correct answer doesn't come out until the very end. Only a silly little epilogue keeps us from leaving the theater still trembling in our swim fins.

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