Fantasia always has room for the unusual.
In this case, the unusual is not visual. The Dark Below is a movie told without words. There’s one or two here and there, but it’s mostly muffled dialog. It all starts with a woman getting pushed down by a guy, suited up in scuba gear while unconscious, and then thrown into a frozen lake. From then on, the story is told in a flashback where the sound is muted – as our protagonist is under water and sounds are barely heard.
What we get from director Douglas Schulze is the story of a woman falling in love with a scuba instructor, then getting married and having a child. Then one day the mother and child witness the husband appearing to be trying to drown one of his students. Eventually we gather this guy could be a serial killer. During these flashbacks, the sound in the background is muted, as we’re all hearing it from underneath the water.
It’s an interesting exercise and it works. It actually conveys a slow buildup of tension as we see what is supposed to happen. It seems inevitable that Rachel (Lauren Schafer plays the character whose name you only learn in the credits) is going to drown. And yet, we witness her attempts and dare to hope that she can make it. Even when she makes it back through the ice, we can see how the killer returns and her only escape is to grab the other tank and plunge once more into the icy depths. The movie does a good job of making us feel trapped in the dark cold water, as well as the urgency of a chance of escape that seems it will never come.
Recommended for all those who’d like to see a different approach to storytelling. It will have you gripping your seat and shouting in silence at the screen. Claustrophobics might want to steer clear. But if you feel you want to witness a purely visual narrative, you really should dive in.
That will do for now.
(Sources: Fantasia International Film Festival)