Director Douglas Schulze’s The Dark Below is an original and bold, a piece that plays around with narrative conventions and preconceived notions of the thriller genre. Schulze combines edge-of-seat thrills with experimental filmmaking techniques to deliver a fascinating survival drama that has the potential to become a break-out cult hit.
Schulze lets the drama unfold in layers, slowly revealing small pieces of the narrative. He carefully lets the audience learn how Lauren Shafer’s Rachel becomes trapped beneath the ice of Michigan’s Great Lakes. One of the fascinating things about The Dark Below is that it’s dialogue free and Schulze is able to get much more plot details and character across through visuals, music and sound. Schulze could have played The Dark Below as a straight-forward thriller and tick many of the usual conventions, but by creating his own rules, he’s able to craft a film that stands well above other claustrophobic survival dramas. Schulze uses fear as a way of enticing the audience into the story but then offers even more engaging drama as a second narrative unfolds in flashback.
It’s not easy to create a performance with no dialogue but the small cast of The Dark Below manage to build effective character through dialogue-free acting. The first instinct would be to over-act in an attempt to get across emotion but everyone offers a subtle nuance to keep things in check. Shafer’s performance is incredibly physical and she’s able to balance this with an engaging backstory that helps to build many layers to her character through the course of the movie.
Cinematographer Robert Skates creates a wonderfully bleak visual palette that gets across the icy nature of the freezing location. His visuals are perfectly complemented by David Bateman’s score. Bateman has to create a lot of different moods here and he really rises to the challenge in delivering a score that helps Schulze get across many different emotional and dramatic beats.
The Dark Below is a wonderful piece of filmmaking that manages to merge the commercialism of a thriller with the experimental film world. Douglas Schulze has surpassed all expectations and offers-up a film that will literally have you holding your breath!