At times it seems the simple ineptitude of “Beneath the Darkness” surely must mask some undercurrent of deeper sophistication and intention on behalf of the filmmakers. Alas, as it turns out, such things never surface.
The film plays as an odd, distinctly unsuccessful pairing of the Southern Gothic thriller with a rather mundane high school story. A group of small-town Texas youngsters (including Aimee Teegarden from TV’s “Friday Night Lights”) become convinced something weird is up with the sad, strange widower who runs the local funeral parlor.
Between school lunches and bouts of bickering with parents, the film often feels like a dimly lighted episode of “Scooby-Doo” where the bad guy actually kills one of the kids meddling on his stairs. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” is directly referenced early in the film (it’s studied in school by the kids), but despite an English class discussion that points in another direction, the film never makes its villain (played by Dennis Quaid, in a performance that’s downright goofy and perhaps slightly embarrassed) central enough to garner or deserve audience sympathy or understanding.
Yet that deeply strange and agitated performance by Quaid is the only thing that makes the film remotely bearable, as when he is left to deliver a jokey line about “two tickets to the gun show” before pulling out a gun. Others involved in “Beneath the Darkness” would have been well advised to follow Quaid’s lead in making the sensible choice of combining a knowing smirk with a slight air of get-me-out-of-here desperation.
“Beneath the Darkness.” Running time: 1 hour and 38 minutes. Rated R for violence and some language. At AMC Citywalk Stadium 19, Regency Plant 16 Van Nuys, Krikorian Buena Park 18 Buena Park.