"I'm tellin' ya, there's some bad hoodoo on this boat."
As the creator of Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic and occasional side project The War Film Blog, it should come as no surprise this writer might not be averse to a tasty fusion of the two genres. Sometimes the marriage of the war genre and science fiction can generate some interesting ideas. Battle: Los Angeles (2011) comes to mind as a solid example. Perhaps Falling Skies (2011-2015) to a degree.
The complement of those two worlds makes an appearance from time to time.
Director David Twohy's Below (2002) is yet another fine model of the merging of those worlds.
Twohy's an interesting director often flying under, appropriately, the proverbial radar especially here.
Unbeknownst to many he had a hand in scripting an early draft of David Fincher's Alien 3 (1992), Andrew Davis' The Fugitive (1993) and even Ridley Scott's underrated G.I. Jane (1997).
Stepping behind the camera the writer arrived with the underwhelming The Arrival (1996) starring Charlie Sheen. But it was clear there were interesting ideas on screen there.
Twohy followed with the epic, expansive but uniquely intimate sci-fi film Pitch Black (2000). The picture launched a small franchise around star Vin Diesel who returned along with Twohy for The Chronicles Of Riddick (2004) and Riddick (2013). While the sequels had some interesting sequences, some impressive atmospheres and science fiction worlds, they were problematic still for this writer. Pitch Black, with that incredible opening of the crashing spaceship, genuinely caught my attention and the film largely succeeds with its singular focus of survival.
Survival was also on Twohy's mind with the imperfect but entertaining A Perfect Getaway (2009). Though the film isn't entirely satisfying on the whole, once again Twohy created a unique sense of distrust and misdirection. With a good cast and some interesting camera work Twohy once again plays with older, traditional film stories while casting his own unique style and stamp on them. The effect generates something familiar with a fresh bit of paint. The approach is welcomed and Twohy gets the benefit of the doubt by fans of cinema if not entirely with critics.
Here, with Below, Twohy tackles a World War II rescue mission in 1943 with the crew of the USS Tiger Shark. So while I've often been a bit on the fence with Twohy myself I'm often rooting for him. Below arrived on a double bill Blu-Ray (the only way to see the picture on Blu-Ray as it happens) coupled with Anna Paquin in Darkness (2002).
The biggest question for this writer was whether or not Twohy could elevate Below into something special as an entertainment or once again walk that line as he did with Pitch Black and other films? Does he sink or swim with Below? Or does the director get mired by his own visually interesting ambitions to the detriment of the script?
Below ultimately succeeds and once again due to Twohy's impressive camera work throughout the submarine.
An all male American sub rescues three Brits, two males and a "skirt." But is the ordinary rescue all that it seems?
The cast is impeccable including Bruce Greenwood (who dates back all the way to an appearance in First Blood), Olivia Williams, Dexter Fletcher (Band Of Brothers) and Zach Galifianakis. All take the script (written by Twohy here with Black Swan and The Fountain's Darren Aronofsky; also producing) and do their part to sell the story.
Without giving too much away, Below is really a film to be experienced as a straight ahead thriller with some nice ideas on old conventions. There is real tension that mounts throughout the picture.
Ultimately World War II has very little to do with the plot, but serves as an interesting backdrop. And the ghost story elements which I was concerned might be preposterous actually works as a rather tight ghost tale in the spirit of John Carpenter's The Fog (1980). That compliment is not made lightly.
Below is a taut thriller with a reasonably interesting cast including the boat herself, an important character in the film.
Those looking for a proper World War II submarine film should keep moving, but those with an appetite for a solid thriller with a submarine backdrop should be pleased.
It may not surface as Twohy's best, but it does arguably rise above expectations and keeps good quality company with Pitch Black and A Perfect Getaway. Below has depth in delivering its streamlined narrative like those Twohy films that preceded it making it well worth the dive. Below is a solid marriage of science fiction and war thriller keeping its head above water with some other submarine thrillers.
For other submarine classics check out K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), The Hunt For Red October (1990), Crimson Tide (1995) and my very favorite Das Boot (1981).