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IN SHORT: An edge of the seat war flick. [Rated R for Language and Some Violence. 104 minutes]
We like the way director David Twohy thinks about suspense filled movies. He mentions, in his notes to the new film Below, that he, too, dislikes the types of (horror) films where innocents are trapped in a deserted house. Like any rational person, Twohy the observer thinks "Why don't the characters just leave the house?" With writer Darren Aronofsky, Twohy has come up with the perfect scenario to answer the question: "They can't. They're in a submarine in the middle of WWII and there's a German warship up on the surface of the Atlantic ocean, hunting." Add to that, war being what it is, the sub may be haunted by the ghosts of souls it has sent to their Maker prematurely.
Or maybe not
If you ever get to visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial and Naval Museum in Hawaii, you'll have the opportunity to stroll through a WWII era submarine like the USS Tiger Shark seen in this film. We don't recall if the boat on display is Gato-class, as is the sub in this film, but we do recall how incredibly narrow and cramped and difficult to move it was in the confines of the boat. For Hollywood, the sets have had to expand a wee bit -- they had to fit the cameras in -- but the great sense of claustrophobia will overtake you by the time the film kicks into high gear. That doesn't take long.
The back story is buried in flashbacks that run throughout Below, so to keep everything simple know that we are on the Tiger Shark at all times. Several days before the first scene you see the sub torpedoed and sank a German warship. Captain Winters (Nick Hobbs), Lieutenants Brice (Bruce Greenwood) and Loomis (Holt McCallany) and (we think, Ensign) Coors (Scott Foley) went up on deck to survey the damage. The captain never came back down.
It bears repeating that we differentiate between "serious" films and plain ol' movies with a capital M. Below falls into the latter category. It's a great and suspenseful popcorn flick that, if you know enough about WWII subs or really want to nitpick about one story factoid that doesn't ring true, you could walk out of Below as a muttering fool, as the critic behind us did. We advise you to relax. Once things kick up to speed, you won't be able to maintain that relaxed state for long.
Days after the victorious sinking of the Nazi boat, the Tiger Shark is ordered to pick up survivors of a sunken Brit hospital boat. They find three, of whom nurse Claire Paige (Olivia Williams) is the only one we'll concern ourselves with. The sub can't return the survivors to England because its "300 miles out of the way" and instead set a course for the States -- the Atlantic is big but it's not that big. A simple bit of dialog about not having enough fuel would have set that factoid gripe aside. The bigger problem is that there was another German boat bearing down on the site. While the sub makes the rescue it is sighted by the enemy, who spend the rest of the film tracking and attacking the sub. The sub sustains enough damage that it can't get safely away.
Even worse, nurse Paige and the pair of survivors are lying to the Americans, who are having enough trouble steering the sub back to port. For some reason, the sub is determined to return to the site of its last successful battle, to the remains of the Nazi warship. And, thanks to the damage, the crew begins suffering hallucinations from an excess of hydrogen in the air supply. They see ghosts. People die.
That's all you need to know. Avoid buying the Godzilla combo when you plant for Below. As movies with a capital "M" go, we couldn't bear to leave our seat for a run to the bathroom.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Below, he would have paid . . .
Now, especially now when the theaters are about to be filled with the unbearably serious glut of Oscar wannabees, we need movies that flat out entertain. Below does. end of story.
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