Monday, July 15, 2013

BENEATH: Larry Fessenden's smart/funny/ nasty teens-in-jeopardy movie opens @ IFC

It's good to have a Larry Fessenden film back in theaters. Been awhile since 2006's The Last Winter appeared, though Fessenden has been busy, meantime, with both acting and producing. With BENEATH, he's back in the director's chair and has cranked out what looks, initi-ally and deceptively, like a by-the-numbers monster thriller about a group of just gradu-ated high school friends who go out on a lake in a boat. They mostly stay there throughout nearly all of the film's 90-minute running time, during which they are threa-tened by a rather too-large and too-toothy underwater creature.

That fish is just fine (in fact, you may start rooting for him, as we did, to get the job done), but it's the group of "buddies," both girls and guys, who take center stage in the film and help carry it, surprisingly quickly and nastily, to a conclusion that is satisfying in a manner that most of the films in this genre don't get near. Fessenden (shown at left), his writers (Tony Daniel and Brian D. Smith) and his very game cast manage to create a group of characters who come to life quickly and believably, then unveil themselves to us in very interesting layers as the plot and threat thicken.

Information spills out piecemeal, and pretty cleverly, too, as tension and tempers rise. Thankfully, the behavior of these kids is only now and then dumb. Mostly, they act as most of us would under this sort of trying circumstance.

The budget here is low but put to very good use, and each cast member distinguishes him/herself properly in roles that are typical, all right, but are then given an extra goose so that each cliché spins into something a little different.

As the boy who we imagine will be our put-upon hero, Daniel Zovatto (above, center) combines charm with buried sex appeal and a smart diffidence,

while Chris Conroy (above) parlays his hunky body and laid-back machismo into something not quite what we expect.

Bonnnie Dennison (above) makes a pretty blond heroine with all sorts of stuff up her non-existent sleeves, while Mackenzie Rosman turns her role of second-string female into something touching and real.

Completing the array are Jonny Orsini as the little brother who tries harder, and Griffin Newman (above), who takes the standard role of the nerdy friend with the ever-present videocam to new heights (and depths).

Definitely a B -- hell, maybe even a C -- movie, Beneath offers such smart, nasty and sometimes darkly funny fun that, while I might hesitate to recommend the cost of a theatrical visit, this is definitely one you'll want to see on VOD, DVD or streaming. The movie, from Chiller Films, opens this Wednesday, July 17, in theaters (here in NYC, it plays the IFC Center) and can be seen simultaneously via VOD. (That's Mark Margolis, above, in the role of, yes, the old-man-who-warns-kids-of-bad-things-to-come.)

The photos above are from the film itself, 
with the exception of that of Mr. Fessenden, 
which comes courtesy of 

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