Sadism overpowers sophistication in Max Pachman’s feature directing debut “Beneath Us” (formerly titled “Gringos”), a grisly horror flick that raises the relevant human rights issue of immigrants treated as expendable labor with undercooked political talking points. Generally unremarkable, its intent remains relevant.
Hired outside a hardware store to finish a guesthouse on a wealthy estate, Alejandro (Rigo Sanchez), his newly arrived younger brother Memo (Josue Aguirre), and two other undocumented men toil away at the command of the maniacal Liz (Lynn Collins) and her husband Ben (James Tupper). Business-savvy psychopaths, the couple has no intention of paying the workers, choosing to murder them — voiceless and disposable in their eyes — with impunity.
The two leads yield thrilling physical performances with silent moments of fear that contrast with their macho facades, yet their casting slightly diminishes authenticity since they are playing native Spanish speakers: Sanchez forces an accent in English while Aguirre’s unexplained and unaccented fluidness in the language doesn’t speak of someone who’s just crossed over.
Rather than play the inherent language barrier to the plot’s advantage, the filmmakers have the brothers speak to each other in English even when alone, perhaps for the actors’ sake. The resentment between the brothers lacks depth, as do the over-the-top villains. A mediocre screenplay renders the movie far less thought-provoking than it could be. By-the-numbers jump scares, perplexing speeches and a glaring score further hurt its impact.
Pachman and co-writer Mark Mavrothalasitis earn points for cleverness with the reaction of the white sadists to a well-off Latino couple who appear as prospective buyers for the property, evidence that racism extends beyond immigration status or class.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Playing: Starts March 6, Cinépolis Cinemas Pico Rivera, AMC Burbank 16