Friday, August 29, 2014

What Waits Below

What Waits Below
Don Sharp
Rupert 'Wolf' Wolfson (Robert Powell) is a mercenary who happens to be an expert on caving. The military hires him to help discover a missing transmitter. The transmitter exists deep underground and uses low frequency waves to communicate with submarines. The military expedition has run afoul of some local scientists who were also exploring the same cave system . The two groups mount a join venture into the depths. Deep below the Earth they discover that they are not the only living things.

Many movies set in caverns tend to lean on their environs for effect and end up neglecting  the story. For every film like, The Descent (2005), which uses this setting well, you get an Incredible Petrified World (1957), Alien 2: Sula Terra (1980), or The Cave (2005), that pads out the running time with incessant scenes of people walking around in the dark. When What Waits Below opens with a long narration about a huge stalagmite called Goliath, I feared the worst. Then the film kicks off with a spirited chase scene that sets a fun tone for the rest of the story.

Wolf wolfin' it up.
I went in to What Waits Below expecting a horror movie, so it was surprising to find out it is an adventure story that draws from the works of H. Rider Haggard just as much as Raiders of the Lost Ark (1982). There is the brief promise of giant cave worms but it feels like a scene meant to obfuscate the real antagonists. The real threat comes in form of a tribe of albino troglodytes (not really a spoiler they are featured on the poster). They are a weird bunch, sporting downy white mullets and parading around in clothes made from their tribe's collected hair.

Wolf and crew's encounter with tribe hit all the clich├ęs. There is a duel with a champion, a misunderstanding that leads to bloodshed, and a few hints that tribe has been around for ages. Once the two groups meet they move through these moments with remarkable efficiency. This helps keep things lively in what might otherwise feel like rote story. There is a little bit of blood and violence but nothing that would feel out of place in 1985. They violent scenes do feel hacked up in the edit. It feels like there was maybe an R rated cut at some point.

Whitey sings the blues.
The cast is passable without ever turning annoying. Robert Powell has a few terrible one-liners he can't quite sell. I'm not sure any actor could. It was refreshing to see that although Wolf and Major Stevens (Timothy Bottoms) are at odds, the Major never descends into outright villainy. In fact his dedication to his duty almost saves everyone's butt. It's a small moment, but in a standard adventure story like this one, it's a nice detail. The tribe's silly appearance keeps them from being menacing, but they do manage to come across as alien in a few scenes.

What Waits Below is a minor adventure film with plenty of fun moments and economical story telling. It is nothing groundbreaking, but it is a solid way to spend eighty-eight minutes.

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