February 8, 2019 Beneath the Leaves (Movie Review)
Academy Award-winning Actress Mira Sorvino stars alongside her equally accomplished father and talented husband in the brand-new Thriller Beneath the Leaves, which arrives to select theaters as well as On Demand on Friday, February 8, 2019 thanks to Vertical Entertainment. Fans can screen the film in-person at Kent Theatre in Brooklyn, NY; Galaxy Mission Grove in Riverside, CA; Emagine Frankfort in Frankfort, IL; Studio Movie Grill Spring Valley in Dallas, TX; Studio Movie Grill Marietta in Marietta, GA; Studio Movie Grill Pearland in Houston, TX; Emagine Rochester Hills in Rochester Hills, MI; Studio Movie Grill Tampa in Tampa, FL; Emagine Lakeville in Lakeville, MN; and Screenland Crossroads in Kansas City, MO.
The small town of Julian, California is plagued by the tragedies of its past, namely serial killer James Whitley (Doug Jones: Hellboy II: The Golden Army 2008, The Shape of Water 2017). Known for his ‘euthanization’ of foster children, Whitley believed that his work was salvation for these youngsters who, in death, would find themselves reunited with their loving birth parents. Fortunately, of late, he has been spending life in Pendleton Prison, and Julian has spent the past few decades enjoying a sleepy kind of calm.
That is until a fire at the prison allows six inmates, Whitley among them, to escape and flee into the forests surrounding the town. Normally, top Detectives Erica Shotwell (Mira Sorvino: Mighty Aphrodite 1995, Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion 1997) and Brian Larson (Kristoffer Polaha: Devil’s Knot 2013, Frontman 2016) would be immediately assigned such a high-priority case, but there’s a slight snafu: Larson has a personal involvement in the case. Along with his three foster brothers — Josh (Ser’Darius Blain: Charmed series, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle 2017), Matt (Christopher Backus: Roadies series, Bosch series), and George (Christopher Masterson: Malcolm in the Middle series, Scary Movie 2) — Larson is a former victim of Whitley’s who lived to tell his story.
Instead, fearing claims of impartiality, harried Captain Parker (Paul Sorvino: Goodfellas 1990, Nixon 1995) assigns Shotwell a new partner, Detective Abrams (Aaron Farb: 42 2013, The Walking Dead series). With Larson’s condition spiraling downward as the case progresses, and the dire need to get Whitley quickly back behind bars, Shotwell will be forced to face the case of a lifetime to save her lover and the town from its disturbing past.
Clocking in at 90 minutes in length, Beneath the Leaves is a feature-length directorial debut for Adam Marino (Homeless short 2013, Ring Ring 2019) and was written by Marino with Naman Barsoom (Inheritance short 2014, Bite Me series), Daniel Wallner (Your Hand short 2017, Bite Me series), and Mark Andrew Wilson (In the House of God short 2013, The Roommates series). It also features Melora Walters (Dead Poets Society 1989, Boogie Nights 1997); Marla Adams (Gotcha! 1985, The Bold and the Beautiful series); Jena Sims (Last Vegas 2013, Kill the Messenger 2014); Don Swayze (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman series, Steel Train 1998); and Lili Bordán (Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome TV movie 2012, The Martian 2015).
Billed as a Thriller, Beneath the Leaves is a Mystery/Thriller with a James Patterson-esque feel to its script. There are holes in the plot, yes, which is nothing astoundingly original, but it flows steadily and is apt to hold viewers’ interest for the duration of its run time. Fans of recent serial killer/sociopath next door-themed Thrillers such as 2018’s The Clovehitch Killer or Summer of ‘84 are the targeted audience, and are apt to easily enjoy what Beneath the Leaves has to offer.
Clearly, there is no arguing with the casting here, as Mira Sorvino has more than proven her talents throughout the years. As Detective Shotwell, she delivers a solid performance that allows her moments of fierceness, displaying her girl power for the world to see. Truth be told, it’s actually kind of fun to see her get riled up and fight off the villains. Additionally, while his role is fairly succinct, Paul Sorvino delivers the most classy and elegant “motherfucker” that you will ever hear.
In truth, the stand-outs here are three individuals: Polaha as the haunted Detective Larson, Backus as the troubled Matt, and Farb as the intentionally awkward Detective Abrams. Let’s face it: Farb looks more like a member of the cast of Interview with the Vampire or True Blood than a detective. This intentional awkwardness provides his character a level of intrigue, and offers Farb the chance to inject some softly comedic moments — which keep the film from ever becoming overbearing.
Polaha has the most material to work with: Larson is a protective big brother, haunted by his past, drinking heavily to handle his personal pain and nightmarish flashbacks. Polaha delivers a commendable performance, perfectly relaying the intricacies of his character and providing a solid basis for both Miss Sorvino and Backus to bounce off. Which leads us to Backus, who sets the emotional precedent high in his portrayal of Matt. Tormented by his past and clearly disturbed by the recent events in town, Matt is the perfect sympathetic character who hooks us into the emotional heft of this story.
In short, one fire ignites a firestorm in Beneath the Leaves, a solid entry into the Thriller/Mystery genre. Hardly the most unique or original script that you will encounter, its exceptional team of actors give the production their all and it pays off. If you are a fan of serial killers, Whitley is certainly not the darkest, but he is a disturbing enough sociopath next door to provide an enjoyable watch. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock give Beneath the Leaves 3.5 of 5 stars.