Below (2002)

BelowIt is 1943, and the USS Tiger Shark, a U.S. Navy submarine, patrols the Atlantic Ocean during World War II. They suddenly get orders to pick up survivors drifting in the sea, and they end up rescuing a British Nurse (Claire Paige) and two wounded men. They tell the crew that they were aboard the hospital ship Fort James, which was sunk two days earlier from a torpedo hit. Tension starts to arise when the crew of the submarine finds out that one of the wounded men is a German prisoner of war, ending up shooting him, much to Claire’s dismay as he was his patient. A German destroyer also approaches them, and the submarine ends up suffering damage from depth charges. However, that’s not all that’s wrong here, and both the crew and Claire becomes aware of strange supernatural happenings on the submarine. Claire also finds the captain’s journal, where she notices missing pages and a different handwriting in the latest pages. She’s told a story about the death of the former captain, which comes off as somewhat unconvincing. What has happened on the submarine, and why does it appear to be haunted?


Below is a supernatural horror film from 2002, directed by David Twohy (known for directing Pitch Black and several of the Riddick movies) and written by Darren Aronofsky (director of Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan). It was originally intended to be a historical sci-fi thriller, but after the success with Pitch Black the director decided to go for a horror film instead. It was shot on location in Lake Michigan for the exteriors, using the World War II-era U.S. Navy submarine USS Silversides, and at Pinewood Studios. Miramax/Dimension Films wanted Twohy to edit the film so it could get a PG-13 rating instead of an R, but he refused, which ended up giving the film a limited theatrical release with very little advertising. It also flopped tragically, not only due to limited release and lack of advertisement, but also due to rather mixed reviews.


Now, your typical “haunted house” has been changed into different settings before, and the claustrophobic narrative of having it set in a submarine during World War II is definitely effective. The atmosphere is tight and creepy, nailing the mood while showing off just enough of the spooky stuff to keep it chilling. The supernatural effects and scenes are very subtle, and everything plays more around how the characters are spooked by it while also becoming slowly aware of its hold over them. Much of it is embraced with uncertainty and keeping you guessing.


Much like in Twohy’s Pitch Black, much of the story is carried on by the characters and the tension between them. You already realize from the first minutes of the film that some of the characters are a bit off, and are definitely hiding something. We just don’t know what, but their reactions to the supernatural events makes it easy to guess that something awful happened which they do not want to come to the surface. Much due to the underwater scenes and the submarine interior the atmosphere gets just right, clammy and stifling filled with apprehension.


Below is an underwater chiller that is actually quite decent, with its claustrophobic environment and the rising tension between the crew as the supernatural events enfold, all building up to a reveal and somewhat poetic ending.


Below Below


Director: David Twohy
Writers: Lucas Sussman, Darren Aronofsky, David Twohy
Country & year: UK, US, 2002
Actors: Matthew Davis, Bruce Greenwood, Holt McCallany, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Chinlund, Olivia Williams, Scott Foley, Andrew Howard, Christopher Fairbank, Chuck Ellsworth, Crispin Layfield


Vanja Ghoul