Beneath Us All (2023) Film Review
In what must be one of indie horror’s noteworthy career choices, Harvey Wallen has built a very solid cinematic mini-universe. A Wallen-verse of some sorts. Always in the company of his closer ones, Wallen has made a slew of horror films that not only speak of his constant learning, but of his passion for the genre. He’s made sure to stay inside of the indie standards by producing budget-friendly features with linear stories that don’t require a development beyond what Wallen can handle. He knows his boundaries, and as much as B-horror has been hassled for decades, he has decided to stay in that world. Most filmmakers start at this point, and yes, most of them make a jump towards more ambitious feats at some point. Wallen decides to stay behind and keep enriching his range.
Beneath Us All is his latest, and even though the actor/director stays inside the territory he’s familiar with, you can recognize his growth as a horror storyteller. Working again with Ash and Bone‘s screenwriter Bret Miller, they both come up with a good adaptation of a story that goes beyond the initially visible catalog of horror tropes, jump scares, and makeup effects. Just like it happened with Wallen’s other films, there’s something palpable in what hides behind the horror. This time, it’s all seen through the eyes of lead character Julie, played by Angelina Danielle Cama.
Julie is a foster child. She has grown inside a foster home run by two very peculiar adults. Todd and Janelle (a T2 reference?) Gibbs are the leaders of a household that takes in children, but they mostly fail at showing family values, at least proper ones. Todd (played by Sean Whalen) is an abusive man whose limits vanish constantly, and he’s not afraid to show it.
One day Julie finds something in the backwoods. She unleashes a creature from the past that’s hungry for humans, and Julie finds no choice but to help what looks like a man, but definitely doesn’t behave like one. I won’t spoil Wallen’s film, but it’s inevitable to expand on the weird relationship Julie develops with the creature from centuries ago.
It’s too much of a coincidence that Julie’s 18th birthday is coming right up, and the latest events make her face a life or death situation. She grows at a forced pace because of an inexplicable event that she can’t possibly comprehend, but ultimately accepts. Beneath Us All is told completely from her perspective because she holds absolute power over a figure that’s clearly violent. Her will is enough to let the man feed, and ultimately possess her. Her realization as a woman represents accepting a darker side that’s not the best for her and her brothers, but it’s compelling enough to pull her in.
Kaiti Wallen shows up as a social worker deeply interested in Julie’s upbringing and Harvey himself does a bit of acting, in the film’s most traditional part of the plot. The standard narrative calls for figures like these, but we’d rather stay with Julie’s dilemma being exposed to strong decisions that will definitely tilt the story towards a darker conclusion that not many will expect. Wallen isn’t afraid to drift out of the usual structure, and experiment with arcs that are more interesting than the usual, and in Beneath Us All he proves it. This folk horror indie tale isn’t a great film, but it’s a director’s statement of his impending growth as a filmmaker. Here at Movie Blogger we like to celebrate that.