Below

2002, Movie, R, 104 mins

Review

BELOW
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The haunting of the U.S.S. Tiger Shark, a WWII submarine trapped in German-controlled waters, is a given — but is it haunted by supernatural spirits or the lingering memories of bad deeds? Screenwriters Lucas Sussman and Darren Aronofsky and director/co-writer David Twohy maintain a plausible ambiguity for most of this trim thriller's running time, which is more than can be said for most haunted house movies. And this is a haunted house movie, even if the house is underwater and armed. Further, the submarine setting licks a genre dilemma around which Eddie Murphy once built an entire comedy routine. When the spooky stuff starts, why don't folks just get out? The Tiger Shark is steaming home when the exhausted crew is ordered to turn around and pick up survivors of a torpedoed British hospital ship. There are only three — crew-member Kingsley (Dexter Fletcher), nurse Claire (Olivia Williams) and a badly burned man — and there's barely time to get them aboard before a German ship drives the sub deep under water. The newcomers don't fit into the boat's routine, especially after the burned man is exposed as a wounded German prisoner of war. Claire is tactlessly, recklessly inquisitive, and her nosiness alienates just about everyone except callow officer Odell (Matt Davis), whose tolerance is rooted in a burgeoning crush. And acting commander Lt. Brice (Bruce Greenwood) and his right hand, Loomis (Holt McCallany), are clearly hiding something about the recent death of the sub's captain, not just from Claire but from the rest of the crew. Already riled up by having a woman aboard, the increasingly uneasy crewmen scrutinize Claire and Kinsgley's actions, question their motives, and suspect they're spies. German ships lurk overhead, dropping depth charges at the slightest hint of sound or movement and trapping the Tiger Shark 600 feet underwater; even as the oxygen levels drop dangerously low, the battered boat can't risk surfacing. Strange sounds, half-glimpsed apparitions and puzzling phenomena, like the phonograph that turns itself on and fills the air with the incongruous cheer of Benny Goodman's "Swing, Swing, Swing," drive the men into a muted, near-frenzy of fear. But are there really ghosts aboard, or are the Tiger Shark's jumpy, oxygen-deprived crew simply giving form to their worst fears about each other and themselves? Situations don't come much more claustrophobic, and if the payoff doesn't quite live up to the build-up, the film is still an enjoyable exercise in claustrophobic suspense. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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