B: Below (2002)

Letterboxd ♠ Master List

During WWII, the submarine Tiger Shark is ordered to turn around and pick up three survivors from a torpedoed hospital ship: a nurse (Olivia Williams), a merchant marine (Dexter Fletcher) and a German POW (Jonathan Hartman). Things already aren’t too right on the Tiger Shark. Their commanding officer recently died in an accident, and there are several versions of what happened floating around; the senior officers are covering something up, and the junior officer Odell (Matt Davis) is trying to figure out what actually happened. Worse yet, they are spotted by a Nazi warship while picking up the survivors, and it is not about to give up the chase, using depth charges, grappling hooks, and good old German perseverance.

Or, actually, what is even worse: the vengeful ghost of the ex-captain seems to be bent on making sure that the Tiger Shark will not make it to port.

David Twohy made his mark writing and directing genre-blending movies like the Pitch Black/Riddick movies, and Below is no exception. The central mystery and connected ghost story are absolutely essential, but it can also simply stand on its wartime submarine story; equal care and weight is assigned to both. And watching these entwined stories unfurl is half the fun, if not more, which is why this review is briefer than usual – I don’t want to tromp on your enjoyment. It’s worth noting that Twohy’s co-writer on the script is Darren Aronofsky, who was set to direct but decided to do Requiem for a Dream instead.

You are asked from the very start to keep track of a large ensemble cast, but – being a horror movie – you’re pretty sure you won’t have to be doing that for long. Bruce Greenwood, always a solid actor, gives a truly exceptional performance as the guilt-ridden Captain Brice, and it was surprising to see Zach Galifianakis in an early role as the appropriately-named Weird Wally, who gets points for mentioning the urban legend about riveters getting sealed into the hulls of submarines, which was the basis for the One Step Beyond episode I kept having flashbacks to during my viewing.

Good movie that under-performed at the box office. Give it a shot, it deserves it.

 

6 Comments

  1. Damn, I passed up on this a few times when it was on cable. Guess I’ll put it on the long list as it pops up from time to time.

  2. I watched it shortly after it came out on video, because I was so impressed by Pitch Black. I actually think I like this one more, but can’t quantify a reason. I join you in urging others to give it a go.

  3. This was Twohy’s follow-up to Pitch Black, which had been the little b-movie that could. Below got dumped into theaters in a limited release and is sadly a mostly forgotten movie now, but I remember that it was well received from the corners that counted.

    I had this on my Netflix DVD queue forever, but then the DVD went out of print. Gotta track it down…

  4. This was actually the last film I watched with my father, and, in a way, was a more perfect last movie for us to watch together than one of our shared favorites (even though that would also have been awesome). Some of my fondest movie memories with Pops Mortis involve stumbling on weird but wonderful movies, sleepers, forgotten films and other oddities that we would both enjoy immensely despite any imperfections they might have, and, IIRC, we had the same reaction to this one and it was a pretty good time. Maybe not as good as the time we discovered Castle Keep together but good. 🙂 It’s been 14 years and I haven’t watched it again partly because I suspect that viewing is going to involve a lot of crying but maybe the time to do it is now.

    • As Tim Lehnerer would say, awkward hug to you, man.

      • Thank you sir. 🙂


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