Big on ideas but woefully short on execution, “The Creature Below” is a Lovecraftian Horror film offering little reason to dive into it.
The Creature Below (2016) is a movie directed by Stewart Sparke, starring Anna Dawson, Michaela Longden, and Daniel Thrace. Its plot revolves around Olive (Anna Dawson), a marine biologist who encounters strange deep-sea creatures during a test of a new diving suit. Surviving the encounter, Olive discovers she wasn’t the only one to surface and finds an egg lodged in the suit.
Thus begins a strange descent into the confusing, weird, farcical mess of The Creature Below.
In all, this is a movie that just makes me feel bad. Not because of what happens in the movie. No, that mainly made me feel shame and confusion. I feel bad because it’s obvious that the filmmakers tried their best to make a decent film, only for it to turn out like this.
To understand what I mean, we need to look no further than the first scene after the title. In it, we’re treated to clumsy exposition, with Olive explaining how she’s a marine biologist that, apparently, worked with the US Navy to create a special underwater diving suit. Ignoring the fact that Marine Biologists have degrees in Marine Biology and not Engineering, the sequence continues with Olive saying she now wants to work with the recipient of this recording, Dr. Fletcher (Zacharee Lee). Dr. Fletcher intends to develop a deep-diving suit, and Olive wants to pilot it.
Besides getting Olive in the ocean, none of this has any relevance later in the film. The sequence is filled with “realistic” text graphics, royalty-free stock footage, and glitching video. Worst of all is how the movie goes from this pre-recorded message to Olive, real-time, in the suit without any sort of transition!
It’s a poorly edited mess throughout, but it’s the actual dive sequence that shows the movie’s true colors.
Non-textured CGI, poorly composited royalty-free motion graphics, and, funnily enough, an obviously repurposed Mr. Freeze cosplay.
This is what I meant — the filmmakers clearly had a big, epic vision for the movie conceptually. When it came time to actually make it, however, they couldn’t figure out how to execute on that vision.
This results in the technical side of The Creature Below failing in nearly every single way.
The lighting is too flat, the shot composition is dull and uninteresting, the post-color correction is nonexistent, and the music sounds like it was bought and then dropped into the Premiere timeline, rather than being actually made for a scene. This could be due to a lack of budget, surely most of what I pointed out is, but there’s also some bad filmmaking sprinkled in there as well. This is most prevalent with the movie’s idea of “art direction”.
An example can be seen around the ten-minute mark.
Olive is fired by Dr. Fletcher for ruining his dive and told to gather her things to leave. There’s a shot of Olive leaving the ship with a box in her hand. Now, in the script, it probably reads something like, “Olive, saddened, carries a box filled with her research, but stops on the stairs to look back at her crewmates.” What we see on screen, however, is Olive carrying a small box filled with only three things: a plastic, fish-tank diver’s helmet and two completely empty binders.
That’s not budgetary — that’s incompetence.
The art direction in this movie is, truly, the worst offender in that regard.
While not necessarily the director’s fault, Stewart probably should have noticed things like that as they shot the movie. Really, though, things like that are a failing of the production designer and art director. After all, how hard is it to buy blank paper and put it into binders? Spoiler: it’s not.
If anything, The Creature Below is a testament to how incredibly difficult it is to make a movie, let alone a good one. Making a movie — any decent movie at least — is like catching lightning in a bottle; everything has to go exactly right. You could have the greatest cinematographer shooting the most amazing script ever written. But if the lighting is bad? That one, seemingly irrelevant thing could make or break the shot, scene, or even the entire film.
Unfortunately, The Creature Below fumbles its technical aspects so clumsily that it’s impossible not to notice.
The only redeeming quality of the movie’s technical side worth highlighting is the practical effects.
While still very cheap-looking, the practical effects did engage me for the most part. Especially towards the end, the gore and monster effects were some of the only things that kept me interested.
It’s a shame then that most of what I found most enjoyable happened at the very end.
So I finished the movie knowing just how mangled the technical side was. Still, I wanted to be as fair in my judgments as possible. I decided to go back and rewatch it solely focusing on the creative: the writing, the direction, the acting. After all, it’s not the script or actors’ fault the movie didn’t have a large budget.
The premise of the movie pretty much boils down to this: A woman comes into possession of a Cthulhu egg and decides to raise it like a baby.
There’s plenty of really weird scenes to be had in The Creature Below. In one, Olive is seen literally breastfeeding the strange, cephalopod puppet. Another weird, nearly hysterical, scene involves her kidnapping an old lady from a nursing home to feed the beast.
However, the strange, engaging scenes are too few and far between. Inserted into this very interesting ‘A’ Plot are two side plots. The largest of the two is Matt (Daniel Thrace) and Olive’s relationship troubles, and the second plot is Olive trying to hide the monster from people. The former is incredibly boring to watch and, unfortunately, takes up most of the screen time. The latter doesn’t make any sense.
In fact, all throughout the film, I found myself asking questions to the screen.
Why is Olive hiding this potentially groundbreaking biological discovery? Why doesn’t she tell Matt, her boyfriend, that she discovered this thing? If there are cephalopod monsters already existing in the ocean, why do their newborns only drink human blood? How do they eat? How do they reproduce? Why after the events of this movie do they just start reproducing en masse? Why after Olive is sprayed by the newborn does she start acting like she’s turning into a monster, but never actually does?
The answer is that there are no answers.
The movie’s script is just half-baked, and the acting isn’t much better. For the most part, the acting is dull and stilted. There were some performances I found good, particularly the character of Dara (Johnny Vivash), another researcher who works with Olive. Vivash makes the character feel like an actual, real person through his performance, to the point where I was excited to see where his character would end up.
Besides Dara, though, every other performance is completely farcical. In fact, pretty much every time Dr. Fletcher spoke I found myself actually laughing. Honestly, though over-the-top and hilariously bad, Zacharee Lee’s portrayal of Dr. Fletcher resulted in some of the most entertaining moments during my experience.
On the flip side, I did not find either Anna Dawson or Daniel Thrace remotely entertaining, at all. Thrace’s performance of Matt, Olive’s boyfriend, felt forced — almost like he was reading from cue cards off-screen. Dawson, meanwhile, was given the direction of “act creepy” by the director. Too bad her interpretation of that direction came off more monotone and sleepy than anything.
All in all, director Stewart Sparke and writer Paul Butler’s feature debut, THE CREATURE BELOW, may have conceptually been a high-quality Lovecraftian love letter, but it barely reaches the threshold of being considered a real movie. Click To Tweet