Underground Review

SCREAMBOX exclusive Underground streams on January 9. Inspired by true events, the found footage nightmare finds a bachelorette party trapped in a World War II bunker complex.

Found Footage movie!

Boy, that’s a divisive term right there. People tend to either love or hate that subgenre of movies. Let’s be honest; most found footage flicks are horror, though certainly not all. And you have a very firm division amongst Horror heads as to whether they care for these outings or not.

For me, I can take or leave them. After all that build about division, I tend to fall in the gray area in-between. When they are good, I think they can be terrifically spooky and off-putting. When they are bad, I find that they can be bastions of bad acting and cliche jumpscares.

The problem I have with most of them is that they almost universally feature characters making mind-numbingly awful decisions, though. WHY ARE YOU STILL CARRYING THAT CAMERA, PERSON?!

Luckily the foolish decision-making isn’t really the case for the new Screambox flick, Underground (though they do hang onto that damn camera like it’s their lifeline)! The story of which centers on five girls throwing a bachelorette party for one of them–Ella–who is due to get married that week. They do make one dumb decision, which is as innocuous as taking a shortcut through some woods that leads to one of them falling down an open grate she did not see.

From there, the girls try to help their friend but get locked in the underground tunnel system. They do their level best to escape, initially having a solid plan of only following the path straight, but when that doesn’t help, they end up turned around and lost.

The tunnels are part of an old underground Nazi hospital, and it’s not long before the girls start fearing there is more than the dark and being lost to fear. As the night wears on, their chances of getting out look as dim as the lighting in the underground.

TWO UPS AND TWO DOWNS

+For the sake of the bachelorette party, the movie puts each girl in a costume. Riley is Chef Ramsey, Ella is Pam Beasley, Claire is The Rock, Ziggy is a frog, and Jess is a dog. Do a lot of girls put on such costumes when they go out on such an event? I have no idea; it’s a new concept to me. But here, it’s brilliant work. The movie throws five girls right at you, all dark-haired, and the costumes are the viewers way of keeping up, especially as the girls keep switching which one of them is holding the camera.

It’s GREAT shorthand for allowing me to go “Okay, I see Chef, Rocky, Pam, and frog. So the dog is holding the camera!”. The movie wasn’t conceited enough to assume I’d just instantly memorize and learn the girls, so it essentially gave me a cheat sheet. And as everything developed, it allowed me to learn who was who.

(I hope so, anyway! I know I had Ella, Ziggy, and Jess right. I MAY have mixed up Claire and Riley. But I don’t think I did!)

+The movie starts off with a scene off a police official speaking to the press, and it’s a really great set-up for what we are about to see. It doesn’t pay off exactly the way you think it will, either, so it had me expecting that I knew the ending when it turns out I was wrong. So it builds the suspense, but it also tricks you, too. And not in a way that feels unearned or cheap.

-Once the girls get into the tunnels–where the majority of there movie takes place–things get a bit rough on a technical level. Depending where they are in the underground, there are swaths of the film that are little more (if at all more) than pitch black. It’s wildly frustrating trying to tell what is going on when you can’t see a damn thing. I sat in a completely dark room trying to watch this because any light at all in my room made it a nightmare to try to see.

Additionally, again depending where in the tunnel system the girls are, there are heavy echoes. And while it’s already borderline impossible to SEE what is going on, in those moments it becomes direly difficult to hear what is happening. And again, that was with my watching the movie with headphones on to get the best experience.

So just in terms of lighting and sound mixing/editing, the filmmakers weren’t that bothered with what a viewer was going to go through. They either went with annoying realism or they just said “screw it” and shot in the tunnels and let it turn out however it did.

-You never really get much of a sense for what is going on. There is no discernible backstory or details for why the underground is the way it is. There are ghosts… because. There’s a dog for… reasons. Why does the phone ring? Just to give a clue (that makes the whole thing end up feeling more like an escape room than a nasty threat to their very lives). Maybe the filmmakers are anticipating getting a whole Hell House LLC thing where they can build on the lore in subsequent flicks, but if that doesn’t happen, everything here just feels unsatisfying.

OVERALL

Underground is perfectly fine. In the more-or-less optimal environment I viewed it–headphones on, all lights off–it was creepy enough that it had me side-eyeing every light flicker or sound I thought was going on in my room. But the movie basically forces you to watch it like that anyway to see or hear most of what’s going on. It’s a more than adequate found footage film all told. Better than some; worse than others. If you dig that sub-genre, you should take the time to watch this. If you don’t, this won’t change your mind.

★★★ out of 5

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