Devil Beneath (2023) Review
I was initially surprised that Devil Beneath managed to stealth under my radar, I’m a fan of both monster movies and of writer/director Luke Sparke (Occupation, Occupation: Rainfall) and I couldn’t figure out how I’d missed hearing about it. Then I started to watch it and it took me about five minutes to realize why I hadn’t heard anything about it, it’s not a new movie.
Devil Beneath is Sparke’s first feature Red Billabong, which he shot in 2016, edited down from an hour and fifty-three minutes to an hour and a half and given a new score. While I was disappointed that it wasn’t a new film, I had been meaning to rewatch Red Billabong since the Occupation films were released but never got around to it. And while I remembered liking it, I also remembered it being a bit longer than it needed to be, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
The story centers around two brothers, Tristan (Tim Pocock, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Lemon Tree Passage) and Nick (Dan Ewing, Power Rangers R.P.M., Love and Monsters). Tristan has stayed and worked his grandfather’s farm while Nick left without much explanation years before. Their grandfather hand wanted the farm’s land to be returned to the local Aboriginals, but a developer has just offered Tristan a very large sum of money for it. He hoped his brother, long absent from the property, would give his blessing to sell it. Instead, he advises following the old man’s wishes.
As if this doesn’t create enough tension between the brothers, Tristan has been working for the local dealer BJ (Ben Chisholm, The Legend of Ben Hall, The Hollowmen) and he turns up with some friends looking to party. Said friends happen to include Anya (Sophie Don, Yesterday Is History, San Andreas), Nick’s ex-girlfriend.
Sparke loads Devil Beneath up with enough characters and drama to make a straightforward film about sibling rivalry. It’s after those characters start disappearing and learn why the mysterious developer John Richards (Felix Williamson, Nekrotronic, Gods Of Egypt), and the local tribespeople want the land that it becomes a creature feature.
It’s been several years since I saw Red Billabong, but I do remember it as having a lot, and I do mean a lot, of talk between BJ and his crew arrive to become potential monster chow and things really take off. Much of that has been condensed or cut out in Devil Beneath, and that’s a plus because all of the who is hot for who, old rivalries, etc is pretty much irrelevant to the film’s main plot.
With that gone the film gets to the monster mayhem a lot quicker and is better off for it. There’s still a good bit of talking, but it mostly serves to fill in just what the creature, a bunyip, is and its place in Aboriginal lore.
It all comes down to a final act filled with revelations about the brother’s missing stepfather (John Reynolds, Aquaman, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), the bunyip taking on Richards, his team of mercs, and anyone who has managed to survive to this point.
The one problem with this is, that while the CGI creature looks better than some of the things I’ve seen in much more recent films, it still suffers from being rendered with 2016 technology, and several scenes, especially those involving a green screen are noticeably rough.
While part of me wants to see the full version of Red Billabong again, I’m glad to see it finally get a US release. And, in many ways, it’s better off for the re-editing. Without the extra scenes, Devil Beneath has a better pace and is more enjoyable of the two versions. Devil Beneath is available on Digital platforms via Vertical Entertainment.