“Beneath Still Waters” came out of nowhere and left me fairly impressed. I had never heard of the movie until today, but while browsing through the Netflix library and coming across something about a flooded town, I figured I’d take a shot. The concept of engineered flooding and of long submerged towns is very intriguing to me, and I’d never heard of it being applied to a horror movie. The flick ended up being fairly well written and surprisingly nasty, overall a good use of my two hours. I give it props for sticking to it’s devil-may-care attitude towards convention and would recommend this one to anyone with a bit of patience.
Researching the movie brought me to some very interesting finds. Much like the town of Marienbad in the movie, the mystique of the origins of the movie slowly unravel into something much more wicked and interesting than you would have originally guessed. First off, it’s a Spanish movie, but with British leanings. There are British and Spanish casting directors, but most of the crew is Spanish. You’ve got hottie Charlotte Salt and leading man Michael McKell hailing from the UK, but the rest of the cast is basically from Spain. I’m not really sure if this was dubbed or the audio was just off, but the dialogue seemed clunky. Not in a bad writing or acting way, in an audio delivery way. To spice up things a bit, Brian Yuzna of “Re-Animator” fame directs. And all this from a book written by Matthew Costello, who also happened to pen the stories to “The 7th Guest”, “The 11th Hour”, and “Doom 3”. If you put all this together, it is fairly elementary to conclude you would get a dark tale of an Aleister Crowley-unleashed evil rising from the bottom of a lake to take over a new town. Who would have thought?
The story is fairly complex, but not hard to follow. McKell plays a shifty, scuba diving “photojournalist”, who happens to be at the right place at the right time. He’s there to do a story on the political corruption that lead to the flooding of Marienbad to help with the prosperity of Debaria, the new town on the other side of the damn. The man at the center of that corruption scandal is none other than Clara’s (Salt’s) grandfather, who recently passed away. Audience and characters alike discover that the town was not destroyed for personal gain, but rather to drown and wipe from the map an evil and disgusting town, one invested with demons and sin. There are several side characters, including Salas, the devil worshipping scum at the heart of it all, and Luis, who is there when Salas is unknowingly saved from his watery death, that hold their own and really add to the plot. In fact, with the exception of Susana, who we’ll discuss later in the “Gore and Nudity” section, every character played an important and story improving role.
My real gripe with the movie was it’s overall production value. A viewer doesn’t expect much going into an odd movie out of Spain, but the sound and audio quality really took away from what was a fairly immersive story. I mentioned earlier the clunky dialogue, which could be attributed to several things. The score and sound effects weren’t much better, feeling forced at times and missing their beats. For a movie from the 90’s, the video quality was decent. Unfortunately, this movie was made in 2005, so I expect a little clearer images and less noise. Granted, I streamed this, but there are some things you can tell won’t present well.
Visual effects stayed with the mid-90’s motif that the producers went with. There was some CGI, and there was some good old latex and karo syrup. The CGI, as with all movies over a decade and a half old, was detracting. I’m talking specifically here about the underwater scenes. Taking the two elements by themselves, the divers looked fine on the green screen and the sunken city set pieces looked very cool. Unfortunately, they could never get the lighting to match up, which made it incredibly obvious that the scenes were done in post-production. The physical effects, on the other hand, were great. More on that in a minute, but I loved the monsters. They weren’t entirely necessary in my book, but they sure looked creepy.
Now onto the good stuff for everyone out there who doesn’t pay attention to storyline: Gore and other sightings of the flesh. Damage make up in “Beneath Still Waters” is awesome. Yuzna has a thing for lower jaws being ripped off, and that’s not a bad thing for gorehounds. People get cut, twisted, ripped apart, and all of it in lovely Technicolor. One particularly brutal scene involves one of the policemen going crazy, and it’s one for the books. On a more pleasant note, we get Pilar Soto, who plays my aforementioned Susana, stripping down to go skinny dipping with her dead lover. Like, all the way down. So yes, a treat for all types of viewers.
“Beneath Still Waters” was a very pleasant surprise. It had an intriguing story, a competent cast, and some fun visuals. On the downside, it looked and felt like a Spanish Indie movie from the 90’s. If you can overlook the production value, you are in for a treat. Several scenes are very memorable, particularly the policeman’s masochism at the house and the townspeople’s descent into lust and violence at the 40th anniversary celebration. Yuzna does a great job of exploring the effects of power and sin, and even makes a few interesting ethical points (Not that I really think that’s what he was going for). The film definitely has it’s flaws, but deserves to be seen by a much wider audience than it has been.