Dir. Lars Janssen (2023)
A bachelorette party finds themselves stuck in an underground World War II bunker complex. They are not alone.
Found footage movies are pretty rare nowadays, at least compared to their heyday of the early 2000's. The genre is easily exploitable by indie filmmakers, however, due to its inexpensive production values and the lack of a requirement for technical proficiency. That is not to say that filmmakers who choose to shoot found footage are any less talented than those who don't, of course. In fact, to make a good found footage film requires an ability to tell a story through nontraditional means, a capacity for showing what is necessary for narrative while keeping the audience in a first-person view. Found footage directors must make a movie that is cheap without making a movie that looks cheap. They also are tasked with crafting a reason for the camera to be on in the first place, accomplished in Lars Janssen's new film Underground by placing its protagonists in a bachelorette party being filmed as a wedding present for the bride-to-be.
A group of female friends are having a night on the town celebrating upcoming nuptials, drinking heavily and wreaking havoc before being kicked out of a cab in the middle of nowhere. In an attempt to take a shortcut, Ziggy falls into a hole that leads into an abandoned underground bunker created by the Nazis during World War II. When the friends go in to rescue her, they find themselves fighting to survive in almost total darkness, led only by the light from their phones as they try to escape from the creepy labyrinth before time runs out. Inspired by real accounts of strange activity within the real bunker, which actually exists in the UK, Underground does its best to ratchet up the fear factor as high as possible with everything from mannequins to wig vomiting.
At around 1:40 in length, Underground feels entirely too long. You could easily remove a half hour from the runtime and not be missing a whole lit from either the effectiveness of the film or the audience's connection to the characters. Not that there was a whole lot of connection necessary: the gals in the film are not particularly likeable or sympathetic, as they do nothing but irritate other folks around them and make inexplicable decisions that lead to their predicament. While the choice to make them more "realistic" in the way that they handle their circumstances, in this case meaning that they're not just constantly screaming throughout the runtime, is an interesting and perhaps even wise decision, it actually tends to take away from a lot of the realism of the film. It's difficult to imagine a group of young women, lost in underground catacombs with a friend who has mysteriously vanished, would be cracking near so many jokes or continually losing sight of the task at hand.
The shadowy surroundings are chock full of stereotypical scares: there are pentagrams on the floor, malfunctioning electronics, and flickering lights, with the eerie events increasing in frequency as the group heads further underground. The scenery is, indeed, quite freaky. The fact that the movie is actually filmed within the setting of an underground bunker makes the backdrop realistic because, well, it is really what the actors are going through. The film feels like it's drawing heavy inspiration from better found footage films like Grave Encounters, As Above, So Below, or Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum, but despite the explanation for the running camera, there is no explanation for why they are still filming once they find themselves in such a dangerous place. At some point they should put down the cameras and get the hell out of there, you'd think, and yet they never do. It's par for the course, however, with unpleasant characters making inexplicable decisions time and time again, simply to make a movie for an audience rather than craft a believable narrative.
Ultimately, Underground becomes just another lackluster found footage flick. It fails to increase the tension despite its creepy locale, and it commits the cardinal faux-cinéma-vérité sin of failing to make a movie that is both believable and interesting. The parts of the film that are believable aren't particularly interesting, and the parts that are interesting aren't particularly believable. The constant scene breaks, where the camera goes black and then fritzes back into action, serve to take the viewer out of the story entirely and eliminate a lot of the realism inherent to a found footage film. There are a few surprises here and there throughout, and for found footage fans it may make the whole thing worthwhile. For the more discerning horror lover, however, this one isn't nearly as entertaining as it feels like it should be.
Who this movie is for: Found footage fanatics, Beneath-the-surface horror lovers, Bridesmaids
Bottom line: Underground tries hard to be a decent found footage movie, and there are times where it is successful in its goal. Unfortunately, it lacks a lot of the realism, it's far longer than it should be, and it's filled with unlikable characters who you kind of hope are left beneath the surface when the credits roll. It's watchable, but it's way too slow, and it's one that is really only going to be fully appreciated by found footage devotees. I'm actually a fairly big fan of the genre, and this one was a bit much even more me. It does have a few nice moments, however, and if you have a Screambox subscription, you can watch it streaming there right now. Let me know if you agree with my thoughts.