Said to be inspired by true events, the well-crafted "Beneath" proves a taut, atmospheric if not especially deep thriller about the aftermath of a coal mine collapse. A committed cast, solid production design and nimble cinematography highlight this often grim and claustrophobic experience.
The morning after a boozy retirement party for coal miner George Marsh (Jeff Fahey), George, his co-workers (Brent Briscoe, Joey Kern, Eric Etebari and others), and even his visiting lawyer daughter, Sam (Kelly Noonan), return to the mine for one final workday. In short order, however, this handful of men plus one ill-prepared woman are trapped 600 feet below ground after a support wall caves in. Oh, and due to some dubious particulars, they'll have to wait 72 hours to be rescued.
But "Beneath" (really, can we dispense with these stingy movie titles?) is less a tale of subterranean survival and more a quick trip down the proverbial rabbit hole as, one by one, the doomed miners disappear or die under weird circumstances.
As much of the action is witnessed through the eyes of Sam, a crusading environmentalist with daddy issues, we never really know, even by the end, if the nightmarish visions she sees are real or imagined. Or is it just the "bad air"?
This approach by screenwriters Patrick J. Doody and Chris Valenziano doesn't minimize the film's tension as much as ultimately make for less than satisfying storytelling. As it is, the characters are mostly thin creations so our emotional investment in their plight has its limits.
Still, director Ben Ketai does a masterful job propelling the action while winding his ever-diminishing cast through tighter and murkier spaces. Perhaps the movie's biggest surprise: The entire coal mine was re-created on a Culver City soundstage. Impressive.
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.
At the Arena Cinema, Hollywood.