- Rev Horror
Dir. Max Pachman (2019)
A group of undocumented workers look for a huge payday building a room for a young couple. What starts out as the American dream turns into a nightmare as the couple has nefarious intentions.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
There’s nothing that irritates me more than the idiotic insistence that horror has gotten “too political.” The rumblings started years ago but came to a serious head in 2017 when Jordan Peele made Get Out, one of the most impactful social horror films ever made. The notion that politics can (or should) be removed from horror is absurd on its face and insulting to the incredible legacies of all of the political horror directors since the beginnings of the genre. Sometimes the commentary is obvious, like in The Purge, They Live, or Candyman, and sometimes it’s a bit more subtle as in The Bride of Frankenstein, but it’s permeated throughout regardless. To not enjoy politics in horror is practically to not enjoy horror itself, so closely entwined the two are at a conceptual level. That isn’t to say, however, that the commentary always hits. The Hunt, which I thoroughly enjoyed, was lambasted as being too political from both sides of the aisle: the Left complained about how they were portrayed in the film, regardless of how tongue-in-cheek it clearly was, while the Right derided the film despite how clear it was that they had never bothered to watch it. The unfortunate result is that the film, which is watchable and highly entertaining, bombed because of the ridiculous backlash.
Unfortunately, the last 10 years or so have been fertile ground for the reestablishment of politics as something to fear. The rise of the Right Wing Nutjobs™ has brought with it horrific-that-they’re-mainstream concepts like white supremacy and xenophobia, two concepts that have been explored through countless horror films in the last several years. 2019’s Beneath Us, from director Max Pachman, takes aim at both of those beliefs, telling the sadly-probably-true story of undocumented day laborers (most notably played by Rigo Sanchez and Josue Aguirre) who are basically enslaved by a white couple (Lynn Collins and James Tupper) who plan to murder them when the work is done. The film itself is a watchable and fairly exciting thriller, one that doesn’t delve too much into the underbelly of its subject matter and instead focuses on the portrayal of the horrors themselves. While this does threaten to take the film into torture porn territory at times, it manages to mostly pull itself back from that brink and instead focus on the characters within and their motivations for their actions.
Don’t get me wrong: Beneath Us is no Get Out. This one didn’t threaten to take home a golden statue, nor did it make its way onto any “best of” lists from that year. Most of the reviews seemed to either focus on how the film must be some “CNN plot” to attack white folks or how it didn’t do a deep dive into the sociopolitical landscape that it sought to critique. While one is certainly a much more understandable point, both POVs decry the general problem with critiquing horror as a genre, and sociopolitical horror in particular. If you’re a piece of shit who doesn’t view immigrants as people, you deserve to have your opinions on blast. However, that doesn’t mean that every film needs to be Citizen Kane, either. Beneath Us is an entertaining popcorn film with a mean streak and a message, and it was made at a time period where the topic was as relevant as it has been any time in the last fifty years. Good horror is inspired by unrest and upheaval, and to call 2016-2020 anything but one of the most upheaval-est times in history would be insane. While there’s nothing groundbreaking that occurs in the film, it is still a fantastic watch, good performances (especially Collins as the delightfully unhinged Liz), and more-than-capable filmmaking. No, it’s not John Carpenter, but it’s still well worth a watch, and it’s got some twists that very well might surprise you.
At the end of the day, the message, though simple and direct, is made perfectly clear. The way we treat foreigners in this country is despicable at best and genocidal at worst. The way that immigrants, even legal ones, are treated in this country is disgusting, and the fact that no one really seems to care beyond the temporary outrage after particularly egregious incidents is disturbing to say the least. Would it surprise anyone if events like those in this film actually occurred in real life? How hard would it actually be to believe that a white couple, whose disdain for their southern neighbors is palpable, decided to use them as slaves in a country where they can’t even call for help lest they be convicted of a crime and permanently barred re-entry to their pursuit of the American dream? If you don’t believe that the events of this film have happened at least once, I’ve got an orange presidential candidate to sell you. It is that reality that makes the film a necessary watch, even if its been done better before. Sometimes a movie can just be a fun and/or disturbing watch, which Beneath Us definitely attains. You could do a whole lot worse, even in the realm of sociopolitical horror.
Who this movie is for: Political horror fans, Torture porn lovers, Home Depot shoppers
Bottom line: While this one certainly isn’t the best of its kind, nor does it have anything particularly new to say, Beneath Us is still packs a punch and is clever enough to be worth a watch. The acting is decent, especially Lynn Collins’ portrayal of a lunatic Karen, and the film is beautifully shot from top to bottom. The gore is there for those looking for it, but it doesn’t spend an inordinate amount of time on the blood. This one isn’t likely to change your perspectives on race relations in America, but any film with a message that is so clearly needed at the time in which it was made is good to go in my book. Check this one out streaming for free on Tubi, but don’t go in expecting another Get Out.