Thursday, November 26, 2015

Steven C. Miller graduates to the semi-big-time via imperiled-youth thriller, SUBMERGED

Each Thanksgiving TrustMovies tries to acknowledge a deserved "turkey" among the past year's films. Because nothing in particular came to mind this year, and because he had just watched a new-and-not-very-good film opening tomorrow in New York City, I'm afraid it's this one that gets my Turkey Award for 2015. I realize that there were some worse movies this year, but after sitting through 99 long and increasing silly minutes, "turkey" seems a perfectly acceptable description for SUBMERGED. It's a bit of a sad one, too. As one of those critics who enjoyed an earlier film -- a little scare movie called Under the Bed -- by this director, Steven C. Miller (shown below), I was eager to see what he might do with a bigger budget and some better-known and usually quite dependable actors (Tim Daly and Mario Van Peebles, to be specific).

Daly and Van Peebles are not the stars, but they are the most professional in the bunch; the remaining cast members seem practically interchangeable, including the movie's would-be star, Jonathan Bennett (below). The plot has to do with a nicely designed limo that in the opening scenes careens off the road and into the bottom of a body of water, trapping the driver (Bennett) and his "guests." The latter are made up of a couple of post-high-school girls and their would-be boyfriends/drug dealers. While underwater and figuring out how they might escape or be rescued, our "hero" keeps flashing back to better, out-of-water days, and we slowly learn particulars regarding who everyone is and how they got to the bottom of the barrel -- whoops -- the canal. Turns out it was a long journey, filled with sibling problems, sexual attraction and rebuffing, and a local businessman (Daly) who is having to lay off a lot of his current employees.

The movie, in fact, is about way too much. By the finale, full of action that is not very well or believably executed, you'll realize that the film's screenwriter Scott Milam has read (or at least heard about) the famous Matt Taibbi piece for Rolling Stone on Goldman Sachs as the vampire squid. This is because the movie suddenly turns into a treatise on the evils of corporations, money and especially downsizing.

Prior to this we spend way too much time with characters (above), about whom we grow to care less and less, when it ought to work exactly the opposite. But these clunkers scream and fight and act irredeemably stupid for far too long. On the plus side, Miller makes the fear and dread of imminent drowning pretty palpable, but then forgets that the water level in the buried car needs to keep rising (at one point along the way, it appears to have gone down a lot for no good reason). As contained-space movies go, this one -- by opening up and out every few minutes so that we can learn more of the back story -- loses traction, suspense and much else. And one scene in particular telegraphs the villain all too easily, too early and too obviously.

Otherwise, I guess, Submerged is a barely adequate scare-movie/thriller, if you're not too picky. It hits theaters in a very limited release tomorrow, Friday, November 27 (in New York City, it plays at the IFC Center, in Los Angeles at the Arena Cinema), while simultaneously appearing On-Demand.

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