Who doesn’t love a good creature feature? The best of them can go on to become esteemed cinema classics (Tremors), heck even the worst can go on to attain a cult following (Sharknado), while some others become underseen items of niche midnight b-movie stardom (C.H.U.D), hard to say what director Brad Parker’s (The Chernobyl Diaries) The Devil Below will become in the future. Though sadly, we cannot see it being all that strongly recalled. Which is a pity, as there is a good concept here, just misguidedly delivered.
Decades back a mining community was abandoned and all but erased from history. But why? To find out, a research team led by a wilderness tracker venture to the source of this supposed mining incident, only to discover something far more sinister than an accident occurred here, and still resides.
The Devil Below is not as utterly irredeemably dreadful as its current 0% on Rotten Tomatoes might connote. However it is a film that grows incredibly disappointing as it goes on, failing to make the best uses of a wealth of resources at its disposal. The story has its familiar elements (young people going where they ought not, locals warning against it, scientists doing science that is pretty darn stupid) but Parker’s film is blessed with a strong setting in its abandoned mining community, and the story benefits from an initially decent build as the remnants of said community, led by a father (played by the reliably excellent Will Patton) who lost his son there, have dedicated their lives to containing the horror from beneath that brought it down all those years prior.
Unfortunately the film’s major failing is not in its flimsy characters or trope-embracing plot (true those are problems but could be forgiven if it got other areas right) but in its delivery of the actual toothy terrors that await in the abandoned corridors of the underlying mine system. The film’s budgetary setbacks are laid bare, as it tries to hide its creatures with hectic camerawork, smudgy long shots and blurred vision scenes but instead of going smaller to work with this approach, the story bafflingly opts to go bigger and in doing so exposes more of its limitations, as well as making the writing’s widening logical gaps harder to shake off. Especially when the creatures world is opened up and feels like a low budget rip-off of Aliens...only in a tunnel.
That said, there are some redeeming qualities among the cardboard cut out cast and misguided direction, in Alicia Sanz’s tracker Arianne (who does seem a bit young to fully convince but plays the role well) and Will Patton’s (the film’s brightest light) gravitas-guaranteeing keeper of the land Schuttmann, who desperately seeks to keep the devil below (see what we did there) where it belongs. As well as moments of strong scoring and cinematography by Nima Fakhrara and Morgan Susser respectively.
Truth be told The Devil Below would perhaps have played far better as a found footage offering, especially if it had have leaned harder into the monster mythos (here only visible in a few fleeting wall etchings and paper sketches) and avoided the unnecessary lengths to be grander than its means allow. Shame, really.