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Below (2002)
Director: David Twohy

review by Steve Anderson

They called it the 'greatest generation'. The motley collection of men from all branches of society - farm boys from Dubuque mingling in with street kids and petty criminals from the five boroughs - that brought liberty to a world on the brink of tyranny. Agree or disagree with the war itself, we know that the boys 'over there' faced horrors unlike anything most have ever known. And when Hollywood intermingles in the history, the horrors can be amplified beyond the pale.

Below is one example of this augmentation. Below, from Dimension Films, is the story of the USS Tiger Shark, a submarine patrolling the Pacific Ocean in 1943, probably not too long after Pearl Harbor. They receive orders to rescue some survivors of an attacked hospital ship in the midst of the Pacific. While effecting the rescue, the Tiger Shark is intercepted by a warship.

All is not well for the Tiger Shark... from the moment they rescue the survivors, the remainder of their cruise takes on a sinister turn as Murphy enforces his Law; everything that can go wrong does. From record players playing at inopportune times seemingly of their own volition, to ghostly warnings sounded in the middle of the night, spoken by corpses in voices that don't match the ones they died with, the Tiger Shark looks more and more like a jinxed voyage.

The Tiger Shark's cruise grows increasingly more frightening as the ghosts of the Tiger Shark's chequered past come back to haunt its current crew. Crewmen die by the lifeboat-full, and we discover steadily more about what just what had been going on aboard the Tiger Shark.

The ending is also surprising - an excellent wrap-up of the events and a thrilling conclusion with a battle on the narrow deck of a submarine above water in heavy storms. Look also for a surprise twist in the last 30 seconds that should really impress. I was impressed - by the ending, and by the film at large.

Below is packed with impressive visuals and a quality plotline. While I'm generally impressed with World War II pictures on general principles, and that I haven't found a bad one yet, Below manages to kick it up a notch by introducing some horrific elements and really adding something to the genre. There are some truly excellent effects in Below - both visual and audio effects - that really augment the unsettling environment. And, of course, the environment is unsettling enough as it is. A submarine is the one of the potentially most frightening settings there is. It's enclosed, it's cramped... and escape is impossible without a series of careful, thoroughly necessary manoeuvres taking hours to accomplish safely.

There's really nothing bad to say about Below - perhaps in some spots it moves a little more slowly than one would like, but that's to be expected of any movie. But the running time, 98 minutes, is just about right for a movie like this. Below is a textbook example of director Twohy's skill with cinematography and film style, easily the highest points of his earlier work Pitch Black, not to mention Darren Aronofsky's flair for dramatic scripting as seen in previous works like Pi.

All in all, Below is a satisfying experience for those fond of war movies, and even horror mavens should find something to appreciate here. Below is a careful and pleasing blend of genres - part war movie, part mystery thriller, and part ghost story - that will likely surprise its viewers with sheer good quality.

Extra features on the DVD are also well represented, with trailers for Halloween: Resurrection, Dracula: Ascension, Tangled, and Undisputed. Other features include a theatrical trailer, deleted scenes, a featurette on the making of the film, a feature commentary, English subtitles and assorted audio options.
Below

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