Written by: Eric Stolze
Directed by: Steven C. Miller
Starring: Jonny Weston, Gattlin Griffith, and Peter Holden
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďWhat's the matter, boys? You afraid of what might be living right next door to you?"
A title like Under the Bed immediately evokes childhood terrors, but make no mistake: Steven C. Millerís latest effort does not fuck around. Imagine being 9 years old, huddled under the sheets with a flashlight, being held in rapture by story featuring a wicked monster that nips at your heels while you sleep. Then imagine the story climaxes with said monster tearing its victimsí heads clean off, with the gory aftermath being described in intense detail.
The setup is familiar: troubled teenage rebel Neal Hausman (Jonny Weston) is returning to live with his father (Peter Holden) and his kid brother, Paulie (Gattlin Griffith). To mark the occasion, his dad has thrown him a welcome home party that soon goes south when he discovers the two brothers rummaging through some stuff thatís been marked off-limits. While itís immediately clear that Neal was sent away due to some traumatic event, itís only here that we begin to learn how awful it was: after attempting to burn his house down, he inadvertently killed his own mother. He has a pretty valid excuse though: there was a demon under his bed, and he was just trying to exterminate it. However, heís still not convinced that the monster is gone, especially when Paulie claims to have been terrorized by it for the past two years.
Under the Bed is a throwback to the rare breed of mean-spirited, kid-centric horror movies that birthed the likes of The Gate and The Pit (though itís not nearly as batshit nuts as that latter film). While it isnít too terribly inventive and relies on some clunky narrative cues, it captures childhood rather well, particularly the ďus against the worldĒ mentality that the brothers take towards everything. This is where the film really shines, as both Weston and Griffith form a believable on-screen bond to give the proceedings some stakes. Thereís an early moment that won me over: the two are catching up over lunch at the local diner, where the cute girl next door (Kelcie Stranahan) shows up to shoot the shit until a group of bullies interrupt to taunt Neal about his arsonist past. Before he can defend himself, Paulie interjects and reveals that he was the real psycho in the family, and itís a cool little bit that sells the authenticity that runs throughout the film.
In fact, even the one most glaringly false note can be explained away: Holden gives an overcooked performance as the typically asshole father. Such an approach is to be expected, but both Holden and the script render it cartoonish. The guy might have lost his wife in a tragic accident, but him taking it out on his kids to such harsh extremes rings a little false. Then again, it seems tough to judge a situation that no one should have to endure, plus it even correctly reflects the childhood perception of authority figures that always seem a little worse than they truly are. Between the overbearing parental figures and the nocturnal terrors, Under the Bed has a bit of a Nightmare on Elm Street vibe going for it as well, though the eventual mythology isnít nearly as compelling as that filmís.
Under the Bed is actually quite non-committal to its backstory. The two brothers speculate about the nature of the beast dwelling under their bed, and develop some kind of theory relating to dead skin cells, but itís mostly just clear that this thing doesnít like light and really hates people. When itís fully unleashed on an impromptu sleepover, the film really roars to life and becomes a violent, gore-soaked creature feature. What was an atmospheric, brooding little chiller with a barely-glimpsed monster creeping about mist-shrouded rooms graduates to full-on decapitations, limb-rippings, and abductions. The latter point begs a comparison to Poltergeist, and, like fellow imitator Insidious, Under the Bed canít resist peeking in on the other side, here revealed to be an ash-ridden hellscape that makes for a cool visual but does little to illuminate the monster itself.
And thatís okayóI like that it goes just so far and resists the urge to explain everything. After all, the inexplicability of a monster under the bed is the selling point; that itís even there in the first place is fucked up enough. And Under the Bed is just fucked up enoughóI almost couldnít believe how dark and violent the final act is. Up until that point, the film certainly felt a little sinister and even a little mature, but it really goes for the throat towards the end. Had the monster itself been more distinctive (itís sort of a mish-mash of Pumpkinhead and the Flukeman from The X-Files) thatís perpetually shrouded in darkness), Under the Bed might have been really something, but, as it is, itís a solid, nightmarish sort of bedtime story that opts for literalism instead of allegory (an early dream sequence featuring the zombified father terrorizing his kids hints that it might be up to more beneath the surface) as the characters confront their trauma (including the death of their mother, whose ashes serve as a bizarre deus ex machina here).
Director Steven C. Miller has to be among the hardest working guys in horror right now; in terms of sheer output, he cranked out The Aggression Scale, Silent Night, and Under the Bed within a yearís span. Whatís even more impressive is that theyíve all been successful; this latest offering is perhaps the weakest of the three, but Millerís polished skills are on display throughout. One especially senses his enthusiasm for the genre in the filmís numerous practical effectsóIím so glad we have a guy we can rely on when it comes to delivering some rad instances of gore, and Under the Bed doesnít disappoint. The film premiered at Montrealís Fantasia Festival this time last year, and itís just now making it to DVD and Blu-ray thanks to Xlrator Media, whose no-frills release features a solid presentation (the 5.1 track is spookily immersive) and a trailer. Donít let the perfunctory nature of the release fool you, thoughóUnder the Bed is a slick, gory take on an old standard. Buy it!
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