Title: Beneath the Darkness
Director: Martin Guigui (‘Raging Bull II’)
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Aimee Teegarden (TV’s ‘Friday Night Lights’) and Tony Oller (TV’s ‘Gigantic’)
The appeal of living in small American towns is that everyone knows their neighbors, and they’re a safe environment for children to grow up in. But when a seemingly respectable pillar of the community is actually full of rage, and is willing to unleash fear on anyone who threatens to expose his secrets, the psychological terror is enough to frighten anyone. That’s certainly the case in the new horror-thriller ‘Beneath the Darkness,’ a chilling character-driven film which effectively relies on its characters’ motives and reactions, instead of blood and gore, to scare its audience.
‘Beneath the Darkness’ follows four high school friends, Travis (played by Tony Oller), Abby (portrayed by Aimee Teegarden), Brian (played by Stephen Lunsford) and Danny (portrayed by Devon Werkheiser), as their curiosity about the local mortician, Ely Vaughn (played by Dennis Quaid), grows. While Ely has been a respected member of their community in Smithville, Texas, since he was the quarterback in high school, he has become increasingly withdrawn since the death of his wife two years ago. When the friends spy on Ely and see him dancing with a mysterious woman in his bedroom, they decide to sneak into his house after he leaves to find out who the woman is.
Once the teens enter Ely’s house to investigate, they discover a long-hidden secret he wishes to keep buried. Before they can flee the scene, Ely returns, and has no qualms about hurting the teens to keep his secret hidden. While Travis and Abby are determined to prove Ely’s guilt, the community doesn’t believe that such a withstanding citizen can carry out the horrific acts they have accused him of doing.
Director Martin Guigui created a unique, memorable psychological thriller with ‘Beneath the Darkness,’ which distinguishes itself from other modern horror films that heavily rely on blood and gore to tell their stories. The film emphasized the psychological terror its disturbing main character forces onto the teenagers. Guigui doesn’t visually show much of what Travis, Abby and their friends find when searching Ely’s house, and instead focuses on the physical and emotional threats the mortician makes towards the teens after finding them in his bedroom.
Hiring Quaid to portray the psychotic antagonist was also a smart choice on Guigui’s part. The actor has always played likeable characters throughout his career, and as a result, was able to bring a somewhat wholesome facade to Ely. To the Smithville community, Ely is still a grieving widower, and his neighbors still give him their sympathy for the tragic death of his wife. But underneath the surface, Quaid was able to infuse Ely with a self-deprecating, humorous side that revels in harming and scaring Travis, Abby and their friends.
Guigui’s decision to immediately showcase that Ely is the complete opposite of the heroic characters Quaid usually plays was risky, but ultimately aided in building the tension between the characters. The teens don’t immediately know that Ely’s not the innocent pillar of the community that everyone perceives him to be. However, the director’s decision to divulge this information to the audience right away allows viewers to invest in Travis and Abby’s later tireless efforts to expose the mortician for who he truly is.
Teegarden was perfectly cast as Abby in ‘Beneath the Darkness,’ as she brought a true emotion and sense of believability to the role. She was determined to help Travis find incriminating evidence against Ely to give to the police, in an effort to protect their friends and each other. The actress’ in-depth portrayal of the role perfectly complemented Oller’s depiction of Travis’ understated vulnerability. Travis wanted to act tough around his friends, but he still hangs on to the pain of losing his sister when he was a child. Like Ely, there is more to Travis that meets the eye, and his relationship with Abby helps bring his sensitive nature to the surface.
‘Beneath the Darkness’ perfectly captures the essence of the quintessential small American town, where the last thing anyone would expect to happen there would be violence and secrets. Guigui created a memorable, entertaining story and character in Ely that both seem friendly and normal on the surface. But the more viewers explore what’s really happening in Smithville and with the film’s characters, the more psychological terror they will experience.
Written by: Karen Benardello