Director: Bradley Parker
Cast: Adan Canto, Alicia Sanz, Will Patton, Jonathan Sadowski, Zach Avery, Chinaza Uche
Runtime: 1 hr 28 mins
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 22 April 2021
Synopsis: There is a place nestled deep in Appalachian country where underground coal mines have been ablaze for decades. The Devil Below follows a team of researchers intent on finding out how the fires started, and what exactly caused the miners and their families to abandon their home town. The researchers venture deep into the remote region and discover the key to understanding what happened: sinkholes. Naturally formed craters fathoms deep whose soil and gas composition contain the answers they seek. But after a crewman falls down a sinkhole and the group works to find him, they discover something more startling than the mystery that sent them there in the first place: they’re not alone.
‘The Devil Below’ has B-grade horror written all over it, but that isn’t the reason why this creature feature proves disappointingly underwhelming.
In fact, we were pretty psyched at the start for a gripping mystery, thanks to an effective prologue which sees seasoned miner Paul (Will Patton) watch helplessly as his son is dragged into the depths of an Appalachian mine known as Shookum Hills. What exactly is lurking in the mines? And why is the region denying the existence of the community some 30 years later?
The latter is what confronts the gung-ho adventurer Arianne (Alicia Sanz) and the team of researchers she is leading as they journey into the mountains in search of Shookum Hills. Led by geology professor Darren (Adan Canto), the team – comprising another fellow professor Shawn (Chinaza Uche), tech whiz Terry (Jonathan Sadowski) and security expert Jamie (Zach Avery) – are purportedly on a mission to find a rare element which can only be located deep within the bowels of the earth.
Unsurprisingly, there is more to the mission than what Darren originally lets Arianne in on, although let’s just say that by the time it gets to that part of the movie, we’re not quite sure if you’d even care that Darren had lied about his true intentions. Not surprising too, aside from a campfire moment early on in the movie, there is no further elaboration about these characters. Yet to a certain extent, such paucity of character development is to be expected in similar genre fare.
In its place, as we find out later, is little else. There is a lot of running around in the second act, but director Bradley Parker scarcely knows how to build tension or excitement within these scenes. There is also too little we see about the creatures themselves, and too much ironically of people simply being dragged into the dark, such that we are left less curious than frustrated about what exactly is this “devil” or “devils” below.
Unfortunately, when we do see the creatures in their full glory, we recognise why Parker was trying to hide them away for most of the movie. Not in a good way, the creatures resemble actors dressed up in unconvincing rubber suits – and no, that’s not because Parker intended this as homage to the creature features of the 1970s and 1980s. Notwithstanding that he clearly had a limited budget to work with, there is no denying how artificial the creatures look.
Just as underwhelming is why these creatures have been kidnapping us in the first place. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that it doesn’t stray much further from the fact that they have built up an underground colony and need us as food for their equivalent of the Queen Ant. Even by the time it reaches the climax, it is neither tense, gory or frightening for us to care about what is going on.
And that is ultimately the devil in ‘The Devil Below’ – even as B-grade horror, it fails to deliver anything thrilling or terrifying for its audience. Sure, the concept is intriguing, but it hardly develops into anything we would call consequential. That it is made on the cheap aside, there is no denying how the movie fails to make much good of its plotting and execution. Despite its setup therefore, what happens is simply too mild or insignificant – and not nearly hellish enough.
(Hell should not be this boring, or inconsequential, or dumb)
Review by Gabriel Chong