The Devil Below, 2021.
Directed by Brad Parker.
Starring Alicia Sanz, Adan Canto, Will Patton, Zach Avery, Chinaza Uche, and Jonathan Sadowski.
Investigating an urban legend about an abandoned coal mine in Appalachia, a group of scientists/adventurers come across a threat far bigger than they expected.
With its mix of bland characters, unoriginality and woeful un-scariness, The Devil Below is a disappointing horror.
It starts off about as generic as you can get. The adventuring party is made up of all of the familiar character types. Arianne (Sanz) is a clearly badass explorer hired to track down the location of the mine, which was erased from maps after a series of fires that unearthed dangerous toxic gases. She is joined by a group of scientists, led by cocky, British, adventurer Darren (Canto). Given the supernatural nature of the myths surrounding the mine, it is unsurprising that one of the group members, Shawn (Uche), is a superstitious sort, and the one person who believes that something sinister might be down there.
There’s little to say about the characters besides how generic they are; there’s an attempt to give most of them some kind of motivation, but this is always done through throwaway lines of dialogue, and their backstories are never mentioned again. The only meaningful dialogue is right at the beginning, when they’re sat around a campfire discussing the rumours about what happened at the mine. It’s an exposition dump, but it beats the half-hearted attempts at character development (at least it’s relevant to the plot). It’s almost as though the characters were written to be expendable, and this results in us hardly caring when they come to harm.
One of this genre’s defining features is the voyeuristic thrill of the kill. We’re set up to expect a generic survival horror, where we watch as the group gets picked off one by one. But there just isn’t any payoff in this department. The majority of the deaths in the film happen off-screen. People are dragged away into the mine, or their demise is hidden by a grainy, night vision effect that frustratingly obscures the action. This could be a result of the budget, except it’s evident that much of it went into designing the threat that the characters face. With very few on-screen deaths, and resulting gore, the creature bears the full burden of bringing the horror to The Devil Below.
Sadly, there’s nothing too interesting or new about it, and its presence is explained vaguely at best. It’s the type of monster that is easily recognisable, an amalgamation of Xenomorph and Demogorgon, that is briefly glimpsed throughout the film. When it is seen in all of its glory, the concept feels unoriginal because of how incredibly familiar its features are. For a film that revolves around its monster, the creature could have been more unique, or had a more intriguing origin.
The Devil Below isn’t all bad, though. While the creature’s presence isn’t well-explained, it facilitates a sudden change in tone that greatly improves the pace. Once the monster is properly revealed, the film sheds its failing horror elements and steps up the action, which provides much more excitement and tension. The actors are also doing their best with the script they were given. Sanz’s lead performance as Arianne brings to mind Alicia Vikander’s Lara Croft in Tomb Raider (2018), in that she tries her best to bring both toughness and vulnerability to her overall stoic character. Chinaza Uche also does a great job of making Shawn one of the few truly likeable people in the film.
This unfortunately isn’t enough to make up for the predictability and lack of fright. The Devil Below is not particularly tense, jumpy, gory, or frightening. As a horror film, it disappoints.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★
Lauren Miles is a freelance film and television journalist who loves all things gothic, fantasy and film noir. She has an MA in Multimedia Journalism and is also a Halloween enthusiast and cat lady. You can find her on Twitter @Lauren_M1les