What if someone made Species (1995), but with a guy? That’s the central premise behind Braden R. Duemmler’s debut feature film, What Lies Below. And the answer is something kind of interesting, actually.
Liberty (Ema Horvath) finishes at her last summer camp, she’s just becoming an adult and is outgrowing the restrictions of her youth. Putting away childish things. Her mother, Michelle (Mena Suvari) collects her, they talk on the way home. They are clearly very different personalities but held up by a closeness that suggests hard times in their past. On arriving home, they are greeted by John (Trey Tucker), in Speedo’s, walking in slow motion out of a lake. He is heavily sexualised, and Liberty is clearly drawn to him. He is drawn as a mirror of the way film normally sees women, with brief flashes of skin, applying male gaze to male bodies. It is interesting to see, and uncomfortable in a way, as these women are hypnotised by him, his unusually deep voice, his calm manner, and his deep blue eyes.
As things progress, he is initially friendly, charming, but this starts to edge towards slightly unsettling, and then creepy before it becomes quite terrifying. Michelle is out of action, in bed with a sickness bug that nothing can shift, so Liberty and John are left to their own devices. He shows her his research, examining the balance of salt and fresh water in the world and investigating how creatures can survive as that changes. Liberty becomes increasingly distrustful of John, as his creepy behaviour is supplemented by weird, and his night-time activities begin to suggest he isn’t just a human predator.
The influences on What Lies Below are obvious, from stories of Lovecraft (Dagon especially, who doesn’t love a fishman story?) to an examination of domestic violence and of course Species as mentioned before. This isn’t high art by any stretch, but it takes those ideas and runs with them for 87 minutes. It’s not original, but it isn’t boring either. It looks good, and while the acting seems a little wooden at the start, they soon warm up. Some of the effects could have done with a touch more work, the physical modifications made to John are a bit amateurish and the CGI elements feel slightly pointless compared to earlier moments. The best of this is when we are faced with simple changes to his eyes, the question of whether you saw it or not makes it more unsettling than any weird prosthetic. Again, there is a balance though, and the lapses in judgement regarding the effects are soon overlooked as more is revealed about John’s overall plan. Ultimately you aren’t given time to dwell too much on the film’s shortcomings as it is so snappy and concise.
What Lies Below is unlikely to be anything you haven’t seen before, and it won’t break any records. It is however genre filmmaking done in a fun way. There are worse ways to spend a Friday night and hopefully, this suggests an interesting future for Duemmler as a genre filmmaker.
Dir: Braden R. Duemmler
Scr: Braden R. Duemmler
Cast: Ema Horvath, Trey Tucker, Mena Suvari
Prd: Kristina Esposito, Panda Lord, Stephen Stanley, Abel Vang
Music: Gavin Keese
DOP: Jimmy Jung Lu
Runtime: 87 Minutes
Signature Entertainment presents What Lies Below on Digital Platforms 22nd February