Directed by: Douglas Schulze
Cast: Lauren Mae Shafer, David G.B. Brown
I’m always challenged by single location films. It’s hard to make a story work when you’ve got a focal character trapped in one spot, but a good storyteller will find a way. Douglas Schulze, as it turns out, is a pretty solid filmmaker. He’s not perfect, and neither is The Dark Below, but there’s enough here to enjoy, and enough to invest a little faith in a relatively unknown name in the industry who just may work his way to the top.
The story is straight-forward and no-nonsense. The film opens with a woman being choked unconscious, and quickly moves to the point in which we see a man dumping her in a freezing body of water. What unravels from this point are both a bout for survival and a series of flashbacks, which provide the escape from the single location (the water), though it’s almost easy to forget that we’ve ever left that single location because, while the flashbacks tell the woman’s harrowing story, they’re also silent, which creates a very unique mood, that absolutely has to be adequately discussed because it’s one of Schulze’s secret weapons.
See, The Dark Below is about as close to a silent film as it gets in 2017, and that immediately distances the flick from a great deal of its contemporaries. There’s a sentence or so uttered in the pic, but that’s it. The rest of what we take in, we do so with our eyes focally. It’s a very risky gamble, but it’s successful, and it’s unorthodox, and I can certainly get behind that. I can also get behind the fact that, because dialogue isn’t a crucial piece of the puzzle, our imaginations are asked to be used in a different way. I like that, and it helps transform The Dark Below – twisting and turning – from a standard murder movie into a strangely engaging little genre piece.
Another interesting thing that Schulze does is work the slow motion excessively. Sometimes it’s a great devise to generate tension, and sometimes it feels abusive as opposed to empowering. We can only take so many of those slow-mo sequences. Another issue with those shots, for this specific flick, is that it feels as though Schulze does it to stretch the runtime of the film. He’s comfortably over the 70-minute mark, and trimming 5 minutes of those slow motion shots could have – in my opinion – strengthened the pacing a bit.
That’s not a terrible dose of criticism, and hopefully Schulze can view it as constructive criticism, from a lifelong fan of the genre, not as a faux specialist of filmmaking. A few film classes don’t make me an expert, but I study the hell out of this genre, and that at least enables me to identify the things that do work for me, and the things that don’t.
There’s a lot of great physical acting from both our victim and our villain, and that’s a necessity. To get a believable and supportable final girl who speaks not a sound is an awesome feat. To build personalities with no vocal narrative is also a big victory for Schulze.
I don’t think The Dark Below is a perfect picture, by any stretch. I think there are also areas waiting to be tightened up by this promising filmmaker. I also think he’s made a minimalist film, here, but… he’s done a pretty good job with it. He also proves that you can make a strong, satisfying feature without a Brinks truck handy and a list of Hollywood’s beloved performers in the film. So, flawed? Sure. Spirited and surpassing of expectations? Absolutely. The Dark Below is a win for Douglas Schulze and independent horror/thriller films, in general.