Equal parts psychological thriller and horror, Ben Ketai's Beneath centers around a coal mining disaster “inspired by real events.” Somewhere in the southern U.S. (or Midwest), seasoned miner George Marsh (Jeff Fahey) is about to retire from the business—but not before one last hurrah.
After a disastrous collapse, Marsh, daughter Samantha (Kelly Noonan), and crew become trapped 600 feet below ground. And then, if you can believe it, it gets worse. The oxygen runs out, Samantha becomes plagued by visions, and the miners turn on one another.
Who will survive this ordeal? You won’t find any clues from the U.S. Sago mining disaster of 2006 or the 2010 Copiapo mining incident in Chile. What follows is neither thrilling nor scary—and has about as much depth as an inflatable swimming pool.
It’s clear the race-against-the-clock style narrative is designed to give the film urgency. And the last man (or woman) standing conceit has worked before. But the story dives into disaster mode way too soon (before even the 30-minute mark). Without any buildup, the situation has completely spiraled out of control, with miners arbitrarily hacking one another to pieces. Throwing viewers headfirst into the chaos might have worked, had they been given a character to root for or against. But none of the characters make the cut. Samantha, the designated protagonist, serves as nothing more than a mouthpiece for the film’s condemnation of fossil fuels.
There’s also horror in the mix. This equates to a hefty body count, with the disembowelments and severing of limbs that have become commonplace in the genre. To make matters worse, Samantha's hallucinatory visions—featuring deformed, zombiefied miners that punctuate the violence—prove more comical than frightening.
If there were one movie that could run with the concept of claustrophobia, it would be a movie about trapped coal miners. But alas, rather than looking inward to explore where this fear comes from, Beneath takes the more-is-less approach. It shows all of the hacking, slashing, stabbing, blood and guts—and zombie dreams for good measure—rather than leaving anything to the viewer’s imagination. In the end, you’ll probably regret taking this subterranean trip.
Beneath is playing on cable networks as part of a limited release in the IFC Midnight series.