Six teens row out to the middle of the lake for some drinking, swimming, and all-American fun. But if a primordial fish lurking in the water will make sure that not all six make it back.
Director Larry Fessenden’s giant killer fish movie Beneath is out now on home video, and last week, he and I got on the phone to talk about bringing this toothy monster to life and – believe it or not – social mobility as a monster victim.
What was it about Beneath that got the very busy producer Fessenden back into the director’s chair for his first feature in five years? It certainly wasn’t a project that Fessenden was actively seeking out – in fact, Tony Daniel and Brian D. Smith’s script was pitched to him by Chiller Films while he was in the midst of attempting to develop horror projects with new directors.
“So I read it and thought that this would be something that I’d like to do,” he explains. What, exactly, was the appeal? “I just liked the fact that it was a very contained story. I like creatures, and the chance to make a big puppet was too good to pass up.”
The bulk of Beneath sees its dwindling cast trapped in the middle of a lake on a slowly sinking boat with that killer fish always within view. There’s no cell reception, and help is not on the way.
“Just don’t think that you can log on and all of your problems will be solved,” Fessenden warns. He says that he made Beneath, in part, to show how we’re constantly struggling to remain connected virtually, while drifting apart in real life.
It was also a chance to design and create a giant fish puppet, which was right up the director’s alley.
“I wanted something that could look like a giant fish that lived on the bottom of a lake. I didn’t set out to create anything too fantastical or supernatural – that would be for another type of movie.” The creature is an amalgam of horrible water beasts, built by L.A.’s Fractured Effects: with the mouth and eyes of a deep-sea creature, and barbed quills on its back like some kind of monstrous angel fish so viewers could see it cutting through the water at a distance.
But more importantly, Fessenden says, Beneath was a chance to create “an allegory for how messed up human communication is.” You know how it goes with this kind of movie: it’s not after the first body is turned into messy, red chum that the survivors begin fighting amongst themselves. You have a pair of jocks, the girl everyone wants, the nerd, the ethnic kid, and the girl with the secret.
It’s like a screwed-up Breakfast Club where, instead of learning and growing closer through their differences, our survivors take every opportunity to manipulate and betray one another.
Fessenden blames his characters’ selfishness on, of all things, the 80’s. Since then, he says, “The culture has shifted to expect that you can have it all. I don’t blame the young – I think they’re being victimized by a corporate mentality.”
Beneath is available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Shout! Factory.