This little history lesson does have a point. If you want to scare someone from this area whose lives are already touched by coal mining, make a horror movie about a mining accident. Mining disasters, collapses, cave-ins - they are all a part of life here and miners know the chance they take every time they go under the ground. There really couldn't be anything scarier, in my opinion. Except maybe if you made a movie about it. You've got everything a horror fan could possibly need. Dark, dank and creepy? Check. Extremely dangerous? Check. Claustrophobia? A BIG check. Stuck in a helpless situation? Check. People losing their mind, hallucinating, and resorting to murder? Check (oxygen depletion will do that to a person). Possible supernatural element? Check....
Most horror fans have seen My Bloody Valentine. And many horror fans have seen The Descent. I don't think it's me going out on a limb to say Beneath is kind of a lesser mash-up of these two films. While it will never match The Descent's balls-to-the-wall dose of claustrophobia, and it doesn't have the blatant (and sometimes unintentional) humor of MBV, it does stand on its own as a decent flick to check out on a random Saturday night.
But off they go, greeting the hesitant sunrise as they drive to the mine early the next day. Randy advises Sam to "say goodbye to the daylight" as they descend into the mine, and you can feel Sam's uneasiness kick into full gear. Naturally, you already can surmise something tragic is about to take place, and it does. When one of the miners accidentally drills through a support wall, he triggers a collapse, leaving some men dead or separated from the others and unaccounted for, with the remaining miners trapped.
When they start to hear sounds coming from outside the container, they assume it could be coming from miners still trapped in the tunnels and several of the men leave in search of survivors. As is oft the case in horror films, people become separated and suffer the consequences of being alone. What we are teased with here though, is not just the fact that Sam and the men are becoming more oxygen depleted by the moment, but also that there may be something preternatural at work here. A story told about a group of 19 miners who were lost in a cave-in during the 1920's lends a hint of nostalgic terror to the movie, and makes the viewer start thinking about possible supernatural elements presenting themselves. Is something else down there in the depths of the earth with them?
The decision of going forward to look for fellow lost miners or staying put to try to save themselves and conserve oxygen brings morality into the film as well. But when things start going awry at the container, all bets are off and the dwindling group heads deeper into the mine to search for other survivors, discover a way out, or run out of oxygen and die within the dark mine shaft.
We are meant to be a bit confused by Beneath at times, I think. Are the hallucinations that present themselves ghosts? Or are they they product of very little oxygen and a whole lot of mind-tricks? I can think of nothing more terrifying than knowing you are trapped 600 feet underground and your oxygen supply is little to none. I assume there would be a certain amount of denial, which we are shown by Sam here. And as that wavers and fate is realized, acceptance would set in. That's something we can deal with. Optical illusions that may or may not be ghosts of miners long lost - that's another thing altogether.
Regardless, I enjoyed this little flick well enough. Coal mining is a brutally unforgiving job, wrought with injury, anxiety, and a sometimes hopeless future, so when you add in the supernatural factor, it's bound to scare me well enough. I've always been a huge fan of MBV, campy or not - so another film set in a mine was bound to be gold to me. See what I did there?