Dir. Harley Wallen (2023)
A foster child, who is about to turn 18 and be out on her own, discovers a dangerous secret buried in the woods.
Vampire movies have never been my favorite. There's too much gothic horror, too much dependence on eroticism that often feels misplaced and icky. Placing a vampire in a modern setting, however, one that doesn't feel the need to take place in some dark, dank castle in Eastern Europe, can be exciting and scary, giving the undead bloodsuckers a chance to actually strike fear into regular people and not just faraway villagers. Director Harley Wallen's indie vampire flick Beneath Us All seeks to tell a vampire tale under the guise of a depressing story of a foster child who is soon to be kicked out of her home and who struggles to protect her "siblings" from her nigh-abusive foster parents. It largely succeeds in doing so, delivering some excellent creature effects as well as a realistic story in which to base its vampiric backstory.
Julie (Angelina Danielle Cama) is 18 years old with no foreseeable future. She lives in a foster home run by Todd and Janelle Gibbs (played by classic "that guy" Sean Whalen and Maria Olsen respectively), both of whom are at best neglectful and, at times, physically abusive. When social worker Rebecca (Kaiti Wallen) is reassigned to the district covering the foster house, she takes a liking to young Julie and tries to provide her a path to college. Julie is a sweet girl, seeking to nurse an injured bird back to health (before it is beaten to death by foster dad Todd in a brutal scene), and she eventually unearths a vampire in the woods that she mistakes for someone who also needs help. She finds herself lured into his attempts to return to power, and her entire future is depending on Rebecca's ability to free her from her metaphorical chains.
Indie horror in general does tend to move a bit slower than more A-list films, and that isn't in itself necessarily a bad thing. Slow movies can be fun if done well, and Beneath Us All largely is. The cinematography is excellent, providing an ethereal, dreamlike look during its positive sequences and becoming much darker as the movie progresses. Direction, likewise, is on point, and Wallen does a good job of telling the story in a coherent and engaging way. While the acting at times comes across more like a tv movie, Wallen and Cama are fantastic and really help to make the movie as heartfelt as it is.
The vampire effects are pretty rad, and the lower production budget helps to hide a lot of the off-screen kills that may not have looked as good had they shown up on camera. The lore created, in which the vampire was buried way back in Viking times, is really interesting and creative (but also doesn't make a whole lot of sense for the rest of the story). I would love to see more about that time period, though that likely also would've increased the budget exponentially. Regardless, what we actually have with Beneath Us All is an interesting and compelling drama that includes just enough vampires to make it into a pretty effective indie horror. While it doesn't completely stick the ending, it's still definitely worth checking out.
Who this movie is for: Indie horror fans, Vampire movie stans, Foster kids
Bottom line: Beneath Us All is a generally effective indie vampire flick with some actual heart, crafting characters that you want to see and telling a story with a unique background that I haven't really seen dealt with before. The vampire effects are better than decent, the acting, while never reaching A-list level, does a fine job with the good script, and the film as a whole works pretty well. For an indie film, it's pretty damn good, and I definitely recommend checking it out. It's fairly entertaining throughout.