After being drugged and forced into a wet suit, a woman is pushed down into the water of a frozen lake with little means to survive under the thick ice.
As someone who is slightly freaked out by movies taking place on ships or underwater (moreso than being in water myself), I still always seek out to watch them. There's always a thrill there that I don't find in horror, and when it is in fact a horror movie then I see all the more reason to check it out. "The Dark Below" has an idea that terrifies me on paper, but one that unfortunately never lives up to the terror that it could potentially bring me.
We're introduced to our lead and her killer in an intriguing way. She is being drugged and thrown in the water, and it quickly becomes clear to us that it is made to look like she drowned due to being stuck under the ice without enough oxygen in her tank. This setup is done very well, despite the movie's lack of dialogue. Slowly the movie gives us context to what just happened and who the killer is. Revealed is a story about a woman who marries her diving instructor. They open up their own store and do multiple diving adventures together. They get a child and live a happy family life. That is, until she discovers the dark secrets her husband has been hiding.
It's made clear early in the movie that there will be very limited dialogue in the movie. While that seems more appropriate to the arthouse genre, or maybe a movie where it is relevant to the plot, I didn't mind it too much here. It is a big deal because a lot of people would be turned off by it, but since the movie manages to convey its themes and plot anyway, the movie only suffers from it in the moments where it feels like awkward silence and reliance on a bland musical score.
The real issue of "The Dark Below" is not the lack of dialogue, but it could play a part of why the movie feels so rough around the edges. There's just something about the movie that lacks power. Being under water should be scary (under ice especially). Being forced to stay under there should be horrifying! It never is, and it took me a while to figure out what it is. Truth be told, when the woman is first being pushed down the water it is fairly effective. But once her head is under water, every shot taking place there just feel repetitive and unimaginative. It's similar shots through the entire thing, and most of them are slow motion. There's no sense of real struggle or panic, more a sense of "we need you to stay here for the rest of the movie so we can tell the backstory". Sure, the juice is in the backstory, that's true, but the intensity should have came from being under ice. The backstory that we're provided with is sensational at best. When things are revealed about her killer/husband we feel slight curiosity but not much else. It's rather unbelievable and goes a bit too far in trying to show what an evil man this is. Most of the time we're shown a person who is 100% bad, yet we're supposed to believe that this couple lived a happy life together for a long time before she even noticed. Even though it gives a good idea of there being a family tragedy behind the whole thing, I think the movie should have focused harder on making its gimmick work (the lack of dialogue and plot of being under the ice).
It might sound like I completely hated "The Dark Below", but it's not horrible. It feels like a 15 minutes short film that's been stretched to 75 minutes. The backstory shouldn't have been the main focus, and even then there isn't enough story to keep you interested for that long. Be aware of the movie's shortcoming and decide for yourself if it's a movie for you.