A deep sea expedition goes awry when young scientist Olive Crown is attacked by something quite massive while on her dive. She makes it out alive at the expense of the high-tech suit, though she has no memory of what happened on her excursion. She may have lost her job as a result, but she unwittingly brought back a passenger that will send her down a bloodthirsty spiral. Conceptually built around the stuff of Lovecraftian nightmares, director Stewart Sparke’s story is full of ambition. The potential for a memorable aquatic horror is undone at every turn, however, for an excruciating watch.
Opening with a CGI sequence sub-par of even the SyFy channel’s meager standards, Olive’s story is introduced in the choppiest, confusing fashion that you’d be forgiven for double checking to see that you’re watching a full feature and not a trailer. Luckily, once back on land, the film reverts to micro budget practical effects for the most part. What never changes is the haphazard, erratic flow of the narrative. It becomes clear that there’s not much here beyond a concept; despite a very strong story idea, Olive’s story isn’t fleshed out in the slightest.
The film tells us a few key things about these characters and story, and then struggles to string them together. We know Olive is ambitious because that’s what the opening tells us, though nothing thereafter supports this. Beyond her job, we have no idea who she is. Once she discovers her slimy, tentacle-ridden passenger, she falls under its sway and becomes nothing more than a plot device. Her live in boyfriend, Matthew, seems devoid of any purpose or personality as well. When introduced to Olive’s free spirited sister, Ellie, the direction the story is headed becomes tediously clear.
The actors who portray these characters aren’t terrible, but they’re not strong enough to develop their paper-thin characters beyond what’s on the page. With nothing for them to grab ahold of, they come across as confused as the story. It becomes painfully difficult to continue with Olive’s story with zero investment in anyone on screen.
As for the titular creature that Olive brought back, well, there’s not a lot to get excited for there either. The micro budget doesn’t allow for much beyond shots of tentacles or its black eyes, which would be fine if these shots didn’t repeat ad nauseam. Once the film finally reaches its climax, the camera cuts to the same shot of the creature’s rotating eye, then to a victim in distress, then back to the eye. It repeats so long that it takes you out of the film entirely; instead wondering how to solve the budgetary issue involving the lack of mobility on the creature’s part to heighten the sense of danger, which is lacking.
It’s clear that Sparke is a huge fan of Lovecraft. The strong story concept and the little Lovecraft Easter eggs, like Olive’s Miskatonic University degree, conveys a deep love for the author’s works. That’s all there really is, though; a basic idea and a Lovecraft appreciation. Any potential was squandered by a weak script, monotonous characters, and terrible editing that counterproductively exposes all narrative and technical flaws. The film’s exquisite poster art will reel you in, but you’re better off walking away.
The Creature Below washes ashore on DVD on February 28, 2017.
The Creature Below [Review]