CTHULHU YOU THINK YOU ARE?
THE CREATURE BELOW (15)
Director: Stewart Sparke
Screenplay: Paul Butler, Stewart Sparke
Review: David Stephens
Creatures of the deep are a marvellous mine for horror subjects at the movies; from the classics like “Jaws”, to the B-schlock of stuff like “Humanoids from the Deep” and “Piranha”, and the more imaginative (but silly) romps of “Deep Rising”. As the oceans of Earth are barely explored, we genuinely have no idea what monstrosities lurk in the inky depths, be it massive prehistoric throwbacks or something even more ancient. The mere existence of the Giant/Colossal squid is enough to give any hydrophobia sufferer the screaming meemies at any rate. H.P. Lovecraft can take some of the credit for that fear, with his mythos spinning yarns about the massive tentacled Elder God Cthulhu, “sleeping” in the ruins of the lost city R’lyeh at the bottom of the ocean, waiting to rise and rule Earth once again. *Brrr*. In that spirit we have “The Creature Below”. It comes from Stewart Sparke, who has made a number of horror shorts, with this being his first feature-length production. After a showing at last year’s Frightfest and a DVD premiere in the States, it’s now available across all forms of home media in the UK. YGROY dips a toe in the water, but it’s still too damned cold for a swim … so we watched the film instead.
After a brief prologue showing a terrified blood-spattered women cowering in a room as an off-screen beast thumps about bad-temperedly, we’re introduced to Olive Crown (Anna Dawson). An ambitious and driven oceanographer, she is imploring a fellow scientist to be included in a test-dive for a new deep-sea suit. Dr Fletcher (Zacharee Lee) agrees and she’s soon on the team, instantly thousands of feet below the surface of the sea and exploring an oceanic rift. It all goes pear-shaped however when she’s confronted by something down there, and has to be pulled up pretty sharpish as the suit malfunctions. A livid Fletcher fires her, but as she checks the broken suit she finds a gooey spherical object and hides it from him. Eventually arriving home in Northern England, she examines the “egg” and something hatches from it. Driven by a connection to the creature, it leads her to instigate a number of dark and gruesome events…
If you go by the US/UK promo material and box art alone, you would expect either a modern day riff on the classic sea-monster movie “It Came from Beneath the Sea” (1955), or a “Jaws” rip-off like “Tentacles” (1977). It’s really neither of those things, and actually mostly comes across like a really dark version of “Little Shop of Horrors” (1960/1986).
However it does also have a strong element of Lovecraftian lore that is very welcome. This is mined for full affect with examples of ancient hieroglyphics and drawings that are referenced, not to mention a lovely esoteric monologue that one character lyrically spouts at a fateful moment. There are other touches as well, such as Olive’s wall-mounted diploma from the “Miskatonic University”, a place well known to Lovecraft fans.
For all that though, the film works best (as many of Lovecraft’s own stories do) when it concentrates on the mental disintegration of its lead character. Never wholly likeable, Olive gradually becomes driven to do some pretty nefarious things and exhibits a cold demeanour that’s quite chilling. The emotional transition and internal conflict of the character is played quite well by Dawson, with descents into black-eyed madness and violence. There’s a lovely moment as she slowly covers her face, before making a fateful decision that likely dooms a character close to her.
Despite the wide-reaching subject matter, the film is nonetheless quintessentially British, with people moaning about their jobs and endlessly talking about going-to-lunch and drinking bottles of wine. A snotty waiter even raises a disapproving eyebrow at some enthusiastic eating and rudeness. As much of it is shot in and around Hull (and other areas of Yorkshire), there are several gratuitous shots of the Humber Bridge. Mind you, if it was London-based it would predictably be the London Eye or Big Ben instead.
It has to be said that some of the special effects aren’t great. The CG at the beginning (and some other scenes) is lower-grade Syfy channel level and not exactly convincing. It fares a little better with some of the practical creature effects, although admittedly these are mostly kept to the shadows and you can’t help but be reminded of some of the early Dr Who monsters, especially with the blurry POV shots and when it’s hiding behind plastic sheets.
There is some very noticeable over-dubbed dialogue for exposition, which isn’t needed in all honesty and the film would be better off without it.
It’s also hard to relate to an “experienced” scientist treating an unknown lifeform in such a cavalier manner and dumping it into a way-too-small fish tank! Although, you could argue that there are mitigating reasons for that…
Overall though, it’s the enthusiasm for its core concept and the way that certain moments are pulled off that makes it very watchable; there’s a sublimely creepy moment when Olive “feeds” the creature whilst crooning a haunting version of a sea-shanty, a wonderfully realised instance of pure splatter that occurs at the denouement, and the climax (whilst not wholly successful in execution) nicely realises the whole central theme (as well as cleverly linking it to recent events in the UK … we’re all doomed!). During the grimmer scenes, the soundtrack even emulates the “thudding” score from Ennio Morricone’s theme to “The Thing” (1982).
There are issues with the effects and some other elements of the film, but we’re suckers (hah!) for marine-based evil and all things Lovecraft. And you have to admire the ambition and style on show here, as well as the decision to do something different with the material and smartly concentrate on character-driven issues. Not perfect, but perfectly watchable and beyond the standards of a normal low-budget creature feature.
DVD Extras: Below zero. Nothing at all.