Beneath

Not to be confused with What Lies Beneath, the Zemeckis-directed supernatural horror starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, Beneath is a killer catfish movie (which also explores what lies beneath, or as the tagline says the terror that “lies just below the surface.”) But is it a killer, comma, catfish movie?

Who knows? It’s not exactly a large pool to draw from. Catfish is pretty sui generis stuff.

A bunch of high school seniors gather for one last blowout before college, as surefire a way to bring about their sudden demise as a cop with 2 weeks to go before his retirement contemplating a seaside vacation before he’s filled full of lead.

Despite warnings from a crotchedy old man (Mark Margolis, the human IED from Breaking Bad, spoiler alert) the teens in Beneath venture forth, as this is a horror movie and to do otherwise would bring the proceedings to a grinding halt. Soon, the catfish, a creature unbeatable when paired with paprikash and dill and served straight out of the Danube in Budapest, begins to fairly convincingly terrorize the boaters, one member of whom receives a fatal bite.

Director Larry Fessenden (Wendigo) keeps things chugging along and as the vessel begins to take on water, the surviving crew members (including bickering siblings) resort to justifying why they should not be sacrificed to the beast and thrown overboard to save the greater good. That differentiates it somewhat from its natural horror brethren.

Fessenden has said that boogey men don’t have backstories (or really need them), and unlike other killer fish movies like the iconic Piranha, Beneath contains no “save the whales” messaging or politicians hosting business-as-usual regattas when swimmers start disappearing from their beaches.

Unfairly maligned, this one is actually quite well shot with an indie sensibility and some choice lines coming at the expense of one member of the party, a wannabe director.

*** (out of 5)

Crawl

Parisian Alexandre Aja is one of the more dependable horror directors out there, bursting out of with the exemplary Haute Tension and the surprisingly adroit remake of The Hills Have Eyes.

When it comes to creating tension, he definitely didn’t have to “Crawl” before he could walk.

This one’s a surprisingly character-driven effort however, absent the doctrinal “don’t mess with nature” environmental messaging so common among animal attack flicks, the furtive laboratory, the nuclear waste disposal site, the unheeded warnings from scientists, etc.

A swimmer from the University of Florida (yes, they’re nicknamed “the Gators”), Haley (Kaya Scodelario), gets a call that there’s a category 5 ‘cane coming to lay waste to Florida. She goes to check on the status of her pops, who was also her swim teacher, skirting law enforcement checkpoints to do so.

At the Coral Lake adode, dad is stuck in the um…”crawlspace” and under water and under siege: voracious gators have gotten in via the storm drain, a neat nod to the gators in the sewer urban legend, although very realistic as The Sunshine State is really gator country.

From there, the flooding pummels the homestead and wicked winds whip up, all created on a Serbian sound stage of all places, it should be said, very convincingly.

There’s some pretty good tension and the familial dynamic is nicely played up, as the dad was a bit heavy-handed pushing the fruit of his loins into sports and she’s more than a bit resentful, especially after a relay loss in the opening frame. But of course her swimming abilities will eventually serve her well.

And with Crawl, it’s pretty innovative to have animal scares confined primarily to a home versus being out in the wilderness, where this kind of thing would typically be set, the likes of Rogue, for example, or even a scaly creature wreaking havoc in a city (Alligator).

*** (out of 5)