Big fish, little plot


2013 | 90min

Larry Fessenden

While studying the nature horror subgenre of animal attack movies I’ve watched over two hundred films, most of them multiple times. By number these are mostly shark attack movies but also include various killer crocodilians, lizards, birds, insects and more. Most times I end up rooting for the animal. Rarely do I root for it so strongly as I do for the big ass fish that is eating bratty teens in Larry Fessenden’s Beneath.

Beneath opens with a group of white teens organizing an outdoor party. To get to their preferred party spot they have to cross a lake. One of the kids stops the boat mid-lake to go for a swim against the recommendation of another kid who is suspiciously opposed to both stopping the boat and swimming. He knows something. That something is the lake hosts a fish monster that doesn’t appreciate company in the water.

In most animal attack films one of my central concerns is: can the animal in question actually do any of the things iit does in the film? Can any fish really eat three people? That’s not relevant to Beneath. The fish isn’t supposed to be a real fish. Rather than nature horror, the film is closer to folk horror with the killer fish being a lake spirit and not a piece of nature for heroic men to conquer.

Like a lot of horror films, Fessenden’s point isn’t really that a monster is hunting them. Instead he is more interested in how monstrous people are to each other. It’s all very Stephen King. It’s clear Fessenden doesn’t like his characters but it’s hard to tell if he is making one of those misanthropic ‘human nature’ stories about trying situations bringing out the absolute worst in people or if he just wanted to make a film where a bunch of assholes get eaten by a big fish. This is the central failing of Beneath. It’s really easy to root for the fish when the kindest character in the film is a sex pest who doesn’t abide boundaries and it’s clear we’re not supposed to root for the people. But after that, it’s not at all clear what we’re supposed to do with the story. And there goes all the fun.