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Independent British horror film The Creature Below combines the dire dread of Lovecraft with the excitement of creature features and even the manic terror of psycho-killer films. Director Stewart Sparke has crafted a nifty, taut shocker with a gripping story and enjoyable practical effects.
Olive Crown (Anna Dawson) is a marine biologist and deep-sea diver; to say that she is ambitious and driven would be sorely understating matters. She is chosen by an equally obsessed Dr. Fletcher (Zacharee Lee) to test out a new suit designed to allow divers to explore deeper depths than ever before possible. Something goes wrong in those unexplored waters, of course, and Olive’s life is forever changed as she brings a biological souvenir of the dive back to her home basement laboratory. Olive shares her home with medic boyfriend Matthew Gardiner (Daniel Thrace), and her sister Ellie (Michaela Longden) arrives for an ill-timed visit.
Olive discovers that what she brought back from the diving expedition is an egg of some sort, from which emerges a creature unlike anything she has ever studied about or encountered. She experiments with potential food sources and finds one thing that nourishes the ailing beast back to health. Olive and her new charge develop a psychological bond, but it is far from an equally dependent one, as Olive begins to display disturbing behavior that only worsens as the bond deepens.
The Creature Below has huge ambitions and does a fine job of achieving most of its goals, though its budget limitations show through on occasion. The screenplay, written by Paul Butler from a story by director Stewart Sparke, is compelling, with engaging dialogue. The characters are well developed and the cast does an admirable job with their portrayals. Anna Dawson is especially strong as Olive, showing a wide range of emotions and using everything from subtle facial expressions to complex representations of madness. Daniel Thrace and Michaela Longden are also solid, bringing genuine believability to their roles.
The practical creature and gore effects far exceed what might be expected from the film’s limited budget, and are a delight to watch. Stewart Sparke and his special effects and makeup crews respect the time-honored creature feature tradition of “less is more” regarding full reveals of what Olive cares for in her basement, but what they show is a blast. Unfortunately, The Creature Below’s CGI effects don’t succeed as well as its practical ones, and a few brief scenes involving purely CGI effects could have probably been edited out without causing any gaps in time or logic.
Stewart Sparke helms the film with aplomb, and establishes himself as a talent to watch. Cal O’Connell’s cinematography helps set the film’s tone of mounting gloom and dread, both in the dark hues of the basement and in the brighter main rooms of the couple’s house, and elsewhere. Dave S. Walker’s score, mostly consisting of synthesizer and piano, is a perfect fit for the proceedings.
The cast and crew of The Creature Below take the goings-on seriously with no intended comic relief, so “fun” isn’t exactly a word that can describe the film, but I was entertained throughout. This movie has a hypnotic charm, and the passion that went into making it is clear. Viewers seeking fresh approaches to Lovecraftian themes and monster movies should seek out this spirited effort.
The Creature Below will be released on DVD and VOD in the United States on February 28 through Breaking Glass Pictures. The film will be available to buy or rent on the following platforms: iTunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play, PlayStation, Xbox, Vudu, and On Demand through local cable providers. News regarding the film’s release in other regions is expected soon.