Below

on October 11, 2002 by Christine James
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Gaping plot holes sink this "sub"-standard thriller and drag audience enthusiasm to crush depth. A World War II boat called the Tiger Shark, helmed by the unsettlingly edgy Lt. Brice ("Thirteen Days'" Bruce Greenwood), is ordered to pick up survivors from a torpedoed British hospital ship, seemingly to bring a tension into the mix that only estrogen can provide. Altruistic but plucky nurse Claire ("The Sixth Sense's" Olivia Williams) finds herself on the bad side of the Tiger Shark's annoyingly motley crew, who superstitiously blame her for the bad luck they've been having: The Germans keep finding them and things keep breaking down. Somehow, between the explosions and the flooding and the yelling, Claire deduces that a specter is responsible, based solely on the fact that a record player keeps turning itself on. Her conviction is baffling. Were pivotal scenes of supernatural encounters left on the cutting room floor, only to be replaced with tedious shots of the seamen rectifying yet another malfunction?

Whether the technical difficulties are being caused by a poltergeist or not, the men are far too busy trying to save themselves from the mundane but immediate danger of being blown up or drowning to be concerned who's to blame. Vague glimpses of incorporeal faces give two or three men out of several dozen a confused jolt, but amidst all the chaos it barely registers.

One yokel crew member hypothesizes an intriguing twist to their circumstances that gives the boorish swab a bit too much credit for imagination--in 1943, M. Night Shyamalan and even "The Twilight Zone" were still decades away. Still, his macabre musing is far more interesting than the actual ghostly doings, which are not so much paranormal as abnormal: The spirit's motives turn out to have some noble basis, yet the watery wraith punishes the whole crew for the transgressions of a few.

Soon, via a sudden disaster involving excessive hydrogen in the air, only a handful of survivors are left. Even this skeleton crew (pun intended) is equally divided into the good, the bad, and the indifferent, so their collective fate adds up to not a lot in contrast to what has already been lost.

Given the Darren Aronofsky co-scripting and producing credit, the storytelling here is appallingly "Below" par. Starring Matt Davis, Bruce Greenwood, Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng. Directed by David Twohy. Written by Lucas Sussman & Darren Aronofsky and David Twohy. Produced by Sue Baden-Powell, Darren Aronofsky and Eric Watson. A Miramax release. Thriller. Rated R for language and some violence. Running time: 105 min

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