PunkeInFilm discusses Larry Fessenden’s BENEATH:

Scout Tafoya: Larry Fessenden’s first film was a Super 8 remake of Spielberg’s Jaws which included a pretty accurate miniature representation of the vessel The Orca. It’s half parody, half-tribute, all proof that Fessenden was someone who got the details right and has his own way of doing things. When he started making horror films they felt real, every inch of them. They were horrific long before the monster showed up because he got the details of anxiety and aggressive behavior just right. The real villain of his film Wendigo isn’t the violent and nightmarish forest-dwelling spirit at all. On top of being a unique director, Larry’s also a singular presence on camera and of course one of the best indie film producers who’s ever lived, so naturally when he took a break from directing I was fine with it because he was using his time admirably. That said I was more than a little thrilled to hear he’d once again directed a horror film and the more I learned about it, the more it became clear that he was returning to that little homemade Jaws parody with a bigger budget and a real monster. And that would have been enough, but Fess’ is too interesting a filmmaker to leave it at that.

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The joys of his latest, Beneath, are tactile. You can see the monster and the characters really touch it. That was a satisfaction I thought long gone from mainstream horror: CGI means you can have any creature you can dream up attacking your characters, you just can’t prove it’s there. If all this film’s budget went into the mutant in the lake, then it was money well spent. But that sense of reality, of being able to reach out and put your hand on everything is also in the character design. At the start these people are shades away from cardboard cutouts (this is on purpose) but as soon as the first victim’s blood fills the boat, they become real people with wicked survival instincts. If getting off the boat means everyone else has to die, then that’s how they’re going to play it. But it takes goading before the characters who seem primed to be the ‘villain’ take matters into their own hands. And characters who seemed fated to be heroic slowly prove they’re less than meets the eye. It’s a sort of slow-burner waiting to see who’s going to snap and do something out of self-preservation. Their dialogue also has that weird, half-improvised feel of nervous people trying to seem imposing. It’s just weird enough to be totally believable. And of course the film’s best joke is that the characters can see the shore the whole time and the monster is kind of cute if you look at it the right way. They’re only trapped because they keep damning themselves. I loved its old fashioned approach to the monster and loved the completely contemporary approach to the human dynamic.
 What’d you make of it? Did you want them all dead or were you rooting for someone to make it back to shore?

Lucas Mangum: 
I’m glad you brought up character. I liked the issues the characters had with each other because it definitely helped make the film so much more than just a mere monster movie. Fessenden showed real competence by not limiting the conflict to two or three characters. Each person has some kind of secret beef with the other people on the boat and the tension escalates perfectly. I’d say it demands patience from the viewer, but the fact that they were also being attacked by a monster kept things moving right along for those of us with short attention spans.
And what a monster it was! I got really excited the first time it appeared on screen. It definitely conjured that enthusiasm I had as a ten-year-old seeing the shark in Jaws for the first time, or the squid in Disney’s 20,000 Leagues…

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