The Devil Below is visual effects expert Bradley Parker’s second film as a director, his first was Chernobyl Diaries back in 2012. This time he takes us to Shookum Hills, the film’s original title, an abandoned town in Appalachia where inhabitants vanished and the coal mines have been burning for decades. Is it a hill country Silent Hill, or something more sinister?
Paul (Will Patton, Minari, The Fourth Kind) and his son work for the Shookum Hills Mining Company. As they’re leaving the ground opens up and something grabs the boy and drags him down. Injured, Paul can only lay there helplessly and listen to his screams. In the present day, Ariana (Alicia Sanz, Afterparty, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series) is making final preparations for her trip. She’s a Lara Croft type guide and she’s leading a team of scientists and researchers deep into the backwoods.
Darren (Adan Canto, X-Men: Days of Future Past), is the leader, Shawn (Chinaza Uche, The Last Sacrifice), is the geologist and also believes that the supernatural may be involved. The other two members are the tech Terry (Jonathan Sadowski, Friday the 13th, Live Free or Die Hard) and Jamie (Zach Avery, Trespassers, You’re Not Alone) who handles security. They intend to find out what caused the disaster in Shookum Hills. The locals are very much against this idea. But they’re the least of the expedition’s problems.
After opening with a bang Parker and screenwriters Stefan Jaworski and Eric Scherbarth slow things down a bit through the first act. We get some backstory on the official account of what happened as well as the characters. Most interesting is Terry’s insistence that Shookum Hills is the American equivalent of the Siberian “Well to Hell”, which would certainly justify a title like The Devil Below. Thankfully they sprinkle the odd bit of excitement in with the plot setup and character development. Unfriendly, and violent locals, a quick encounter with whatever is down there, etc. Just enough to keep the interest up until the shit hits the fan around the halfway mark.
While it isn’t as interesting as another Silent Hill or even a portal to Hell, what is down there is still plenty dangerous as The Devil Below takes a turn towards films like The Descent and The Lurking Fear. It seems the mine attracted the attention of some particularly unpleasant subterranean creatures.
Obviously shot on a tight budget, The Devil Below makes excellent use of its underground locations to create a tense and claustrophobic atmosphere. It’s also a good way to keep the creatures in the shadows and just give us glimpses until near the end.
Just what they are is never explained. They’re something like ants or termites, complete with a queen, but we never find anything else about them. Or why if the incident was covered up and the town literally erased from the map why the government didn’t send troops in to wipe them out, or at least contain them, Instead there are just some well-armed locals keeping them at bay.
Matters of logic aside though, The Devil Below is agreeably entertaining monster mayhem. There’s enough running around in the dark, fighting and even a few explosions to keep the viewer occupied. It certainly could have used a bigger budget and better suits for its creatures, but that’s par for the course with indie monster movies. And at least they used suits and not CGI, though they did use that for the Queen.
The Devil Below is available from Vertical Entertainment in select theatres as well as Video On Demand, and Digital.