Who doesn’t love a good monster movie? And not just a big kaiju movie monster mashup a la Godzilla vs Kong. Sometimes a movie that sticks a small group of characters into a claustrophobic space can deliver supreme thrills. Neil Marshall’s The Descent remains one of the best monster movies in recent memory. And A Quiet Place re-defined what a big budget monster chiller could aspire to. Now Netflix has debuted the much lower profile, The Devil Below. Following a very brief and limited theatrical and VOD run, The Devil Below made its way to the streaming platform today. Based on early reviews, however, this Appalachian cave monster mashup leaves much to be desired.
Years ago, deep in the Appalachians, nearly 1000 residents of a small mining town disappeared without a trace. Rumours spread of underground fires and a sinkhole swallowing it up. Now a group of university researchers, with a young adventurer as a guide, head into the mountains in hopes of finding the lost town. They believe a rare mineral started the underground fires. But when they arrive they find a fenced off perimeter and the entrance to a sinkhole locked off. Ignoring the warnings, they venture underground where they discover something far more horrifying than underground fires.
The Devil Below Mired in Familiarity and Poor Execution
Despite an interesting premise and promising prologue, The Devil Below squanders whatever potential existed. And it does so very quickly. Director Bradley Parker – who previously helmed the underappreciated Chernobyl Diaries – seems out of his depth here. Everything from pacing to lighting to basic framing of action crops up as a problem. Found-footage horror can get away with shaky camera shots and off-center images. Too bad it just doesn’t work here often resulting in what should have been scary scenes that ultimately fall flat. In addition, The Devil Below often feels too ‘start and stop’ in its pacing. With few scares and an all too familiar story, Parker can’t afford to let things drag long enough for audiences to realize they could be doing something else.
With few scares and an all-too familiar story, Parker can’t afford to let things drag long enough for audiences to realize they could be doing something else.
And when The Devil Below does pick up the slack, poor lighting of pivotal moments proves to be scarier than the monsters themselves. Much of the movie’s action is lost in scenes too dark to make much of anything out. Better movies – like The Blair Witch Project – intentionally leave things out of sight. Oftentimes the things we can’t see are much scarier than what can be committed to a movie screen. Nevertheless, The Devil Below lacks this vision and craftsmanship – the poor lighting is a technical shortcoming, not a creative choice. All of these problems are compounded by a story that liberally borrows from A Quiet Place, The Descent, and just about any other halfway decent monster movie.
Neither the Monsters Nor The Humans Stand Out in The Devil Below
Characters and casting don’t matter for much in The Devil Below. Stefan Jaworski and Eric Scherbarth’s story offers us barely distinguishable people. In place of well-developed characters with discernible motives, traits, and arcs, The Devil Below gives us ‘one note’ tropes whose names you’ll struggle to remember. Amongst our main characters, only Alicia Sanz remotely stands out, but she’s got little with which to work. And Jaworski and Scherbarth waste veteran character actor Will Patton (Halloween) in too small a role that bookends the movie. In spite of the movie’s paper thin main characters, The Devil Below throws in some more supporting characters later in the movie. Maybe they have names, Not that you’ll care. They don’t stick around very long.
…The Devil Below throws in some supporting characters later in the movie. Maybe they have names. not that you’ll care. They don’t stick around very long.
Of course, monster movies can sort of get away with exchangeable human characters if the monsters themselves are memorable. Unfortunately, as discussed above, The Devil Below is poorly filmed and lit leaving its monsters largely indecipherable. As a result, it’s difficult to common on the monster design or VFX. While there are a few well-framed distant shots of the creatures, you’ll rarely be able to make much out. And those few times that you can make out any details, the monsters will remind you of either better movies or deformed Teletubbies.
The Devil Below Another Forgettable Addition to the Netflix Horror Library
Even in a world without COVID, The Devil Below wouldn’t have seen the inside of too many movie theatres. Derivative and unimaginative is one thing, but dull, toothless, and poorly lit count for too many irredeemable flaws. You’ll be bored early on, confused in the middle, and underwhelmed by the end. At best, The Devil Below is rainy Sunday afternoon fare to pass time if you’ve seen everything else on Netflix.