The Obscured Devil Below
Horror films live and die on two main ingredients – tension and fear of the unknown. Some of the best horrors over the years have managed to fine-tune this balance perfectly, with Alien, The Thing and The Descent as three shining examples. These movies not only hide their hand for long stretches of their run-time, they also know exactly when to pull the trigger and show their big bad in all its grotesque, gnarly glory.
The Devil Below then is unfortunately the polar opposite of this spectrum, playing out as a slow burn horror with no actual horror and a pretty disappointing pay-off. When the film does tuck into the main course, these segments are obsfucated by shadows, camera shakiness and a number of editing tricks to keep the threat at arm’s length and keep it away from the screen.
The result is a movie that could be a solid little horror offering but ultimately winds up feeling hollow and disappointing, with more time squinting at the screen than cowering away from it.
That’s a problem too because the story itself is pretty bare bones, with the first half working to introduce our core group of characters before the back-end of the movie teases a more action-driven romp that never arrives.
Our tale begins several decades back in the town of Shookum Hills. A group of miners find themselves caught in a nasty accident as poisonous gases rise up from the ground and force the locals to abandon town.
Fast forward to present day North America and rumours about what really happened at Shookum Hills continue to swarm. Was it really a mining accident? Could it be that a Russian team drilled down and heard the screams of the damned? Is the place cursed? Or is there something more going on here, intentionally hidden from the public?
Well, a group of researchers are determined to find out what’s going on. This diverse group of colourful characters recruit a wilderness tracker called Arianne into their group with the intention of locating the long-forgotten Shookum Hills and get to the bottom of the mystery.
The set-up is actually quite good in truth and for the first 20 minutes or so the movie builds up a consistent level of dread. And then another 20 minutes pass and that wanes. And another 10 minutes pass – still nothing happens. And before you know it, an hour of this film has passed with very little in the way of sustained suspense or frightening bumps in the night.
To The Devil Below’s credit, the movie does manage to keep a good sense of mystery about it for long stretches of the run-time. The reveals late on about what’s happened in town are definitely interesting and these do help add some creativity to the fold.
Unfortunately this creativity isn’t enough to keep afloat what’s otherwise a pretty generic horror flick. In fact, the only horrifying part of The Devil Below is how much time is wasted on atmosphere and build-up, only to obfuscate the creature reveal behind a frustrating, blurry veil of disappointment.
This isn’t a bad film but it’s not a particularly good one either; Shookum Hills is certainly not getting a favourable TripAdvisor score from us.