The opening of Beneath prepares us for a film inspired by real facts—an actual 2013 coal mine collapse that trapped a crew of miners 600 feet below ground—sweating, breathing through oxygen masks, trapped in the darkness with nothing but the glow from an occasional flashlight with failing batteries. I was ready for a descent into anguished real-life fervor.
Written by: Patrick Doody and Chris Valenziano
First, there’s the one female cast member—an environmental lawyer named Sam (comely, talented newcomer Kelly Noonan), home to visit her father (veteran actor Jeff Fahey), a miner for almost four decades, and celebrate his retirement. On his last day, Sam accepts a dare from the other miners and agrees to accompany her father down into the mine shaft equipped with a pickaxe and see what he’s been doing for the past 35 years to put her through college. The blackness is daunting, but the adventure unfolds with mounting nervous tension until a drilling device hits a hole and the mine collapses in a deafening explosion, burying everyone under a ton of crumbling rocks and coal dust. A debut effort by director Ben Ketai that features a realistic screenplay co-authored by Patrick Doody and Chris Valenziano, it has viable suspense.
For a movie that takes place almost entirely in the dark, it also holds interest—up to a point. You get the blinking light bulbs, the claustrophobia, the desperation of trapped people grasping for a bit of oxygen, the noise of the drills and the conveyor belts, and the panic that follows. Relegated to a first-aid station that contains cots, a toilet and some survival supplies that can keep them going for a few days, the terrified group experiences temporary hope, but cell phones don’t work and it will take 72 hours before the rescue team can reach them. And then come the zombies …
Or maybe the miners just go mad and start killing each other wearing empty-eyed fright masks from David Cronenberg’s Scanners. Halfway through, the movie loses its grip on logic and truth, and you stop believing it’s based on anything other than the years the director spent in his youth, marching in the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. It simply turns into another slash-and-dice horror flick, replete with enough screams for three more installments of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.