Thursday, 7 February 2013

Something Lurks Below

I really like submarine stories. Put me in a U-boat or similar contraption (fictionally speaking) and I'm ready and primed for terror, with lots of pings, explosions, and steam shooting out of all those assorted overhead pipes. So a ghost story set on a submarine is right up my street.

The 2002 movie Below didn't get a lot of publicity at the time, probably because it is in many respects a rather formulaic war movie jazzed up with a supernatural twist. That said, I found it very entertaining within those quite roomy parameters. A good but not starry cast deliver a well-crafted script that is economical and convincing. The actual story makes sense. This is not one of those films that leaves you going 'Huh?' after the big reveal - indeed, there is even a massive, honking clue as to what's going on in the first few minutes.

So, what's it about? The situation is simply that an American submarine in the Atlantic - we may infer somewhere around the Bay of Biscay - is ordered to pick up survivors from a British hospital ship, returning to England from North Africa. The survivors turn out to be a seaman, a nurse (played by Olivia Williams, who was in Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, if you've seen it), and a German PoW.

From the start it's obvious that something is seriously wrong aboard the USS Tigerfish. It transpires that the first officer recently assumed command after the accidental death of the captain. But how did the captain die? The mechanics of submarine warfare are used to good effect, here, to create a distinct whiff of Gothic mystery. And the one advantage of a haunted submarine in wartime is that, unlike a haunted house, you can't just dash out of the front door and vow never to return...

Below reminds me in some ways of an extended episode of The Twilight Zone, albeit with plenty of modern horror twists. There is the inevitable bit when some hapless guys have to go into The Very Dark Confined Space To Do The Vital Job, for instance. And there is a totally unhistorical scene in which a German destroyer attacks the damaged sub with grappling hooks. Overall it works well, and that's what counts.

While this one may not be worth seeking out unless you share my submarine addiction, if it happens to be on I'd recommend giving it a try.


James Everington said...

Let me guess, your favourite Lovecraft story is The Temple?

valdemar said...

Oddly enough, no - but it's not very convincing, technically. I don't think HPL did much research into U-boats, just read propaganda about nasty Prussians.