March 3, 2020 Beneath Us (Movie Review)
What initially appears to be a huge payday turns into a nightmare for a group of day laborers in Beneath Us. Vital Pictures LLC usher the new Horror-Thriller into select theaters on Friday, March 6th, 2020.
Far from your average Horror-Thriller, Beneath Us is a bloody metaphor for the plight of undocumented laborers in the U.S. In his feature debut, Director Max Pachman (Anonymous short 2006, 16th Street short 2008), along with co-writer Mark Mavrothalasitis (Eden 2014, The Ceoltoir short 2014), crafts a truly disturbing experience, one that is more about the real life horrors of socio-economic struggle than any of the fictional nightmares you will see in the latest franchise flicks.
Here, undocumented Alejandro (Rigo Sanchez: Goliath series, The Last Ship series) is a soft-spoken and hard-working day laborer, struggling to save up enough money to bring his wife and son to America. When his younger brother, Memo (Josue Aguirre: Incarnate 2016, Veronica Mars series), unceremoniously arrives in Los Angeles, presumably after having snuck across the border illegally, the pressure is on Alejandro to hussle and find enough work to keep both of them afloat.
A godsend comes in the form of Liz (Lynn Collins: X-Men Origins: Wolverine 2009, Bosch series) and Ben Rhodes (James Tupper: Me and Orson Welles 2008, Big Little Lies series), a wealthy pair of house flippers who hire the brothers, along with Hector (Roberto ‘Sanz’ Sanchez: 2 Fast 2 Furious 2003, Queen of the South series) and Antonio (Thomas Chavira: The Fur Is Gone series, Shameless series), to complete work on a guest cottage. It isn’t long after the gates shut and the four men are trapped on the posh estate that Memo begins to fear that the Rhodes’ might not intend to hold up their end of the bargain.
Clocking in at a runtime of 85 minutes, Beneath Us utilizes largely standard genre fare to paint its bleak picture of survival. While there’s certainly plenty of violence and blood, it is the underlying commentary in the film that is far more disturbing than any of the on-screen action. In short, this is a story that takes one of today’s hottest issues in America and uses a literal wall (well, an electrified fence) to divide its characters by class and citizenship status. Spoiler alert: the Rhodes do not give the rest of us a very good name!
In fact, Collins’ performance as the deadly but beautiful Liz is, to put it mildly, grotesque. In this instance, that’s what is intended, as Liz is a sadistic tormentor who takes delight in murdering a man with her high heels and dancing around her front lawn with a shotgun. Collins’ delivery is disturbing—nauseating, even—if you consider that there really are people out there that do not value human lives. Of course, her character is an extreme representation, a rich, white woman who views her employees as little more than slaves meant to cater to her demented whimsy.
On quite the opposite end of the spectrum is Sanchez’ Alejandro. A quiet man who is simply trying to make enough money to bring his family across the border, to hopefully grasp that ever-elusive American dream, he is willing to put up with a lot in order to earn his paycheck. There’s a value to hard work for Jandro, a belief that work will set him free, and he enters into his contract with the Rhodes’ believing only the very best in his new employers. But like most men, Jandro can only bear so much abuse before he will be forced to fight for his life, allowing Sanchez to deliver an exceptional performance in this pivotal role.
Somewhere between these two opposed forces lies Aguirre’s Memo. Distrusting of the Rhodes’ from the get-go, questioning his brother’s choices, Memo is a street-smart young man who understands that honest, hard work does not always mean what it should. Through Memo’s cynical eyes we see the obvious corollary between the Rhodes’ fence and a controversial wall, a structure that stands for far more than the materials used in its creation. Much like his cast-mate Sanchez, Aguirre delivers a powerful performance as a man with a chip on his shoulder, one that he continues to carry across borders big and small.
All of this said, Beneath Us is not going to be for everyone. Much as 2020 is a decidedly divisive time in our nation, this is a movie that is apt to polarize its viewers. In this, what you take into your movie-going experience will decide what you walk away with. Thus, if you are politically opposed to the film’s important and timely message, or simply blind to the issue, then you will view a largely average Horror-Thriller wherein a couple torments a bunch of day laborers simply because they can.
For those that are accepting of its vital underlying message about what is happening in our country at this moment, Beneath Us is a smart use of hyperbolic film as metaphor akin, in some ways, to 2017’s Get Out. It’s not going to be for everyone, but then again, neither are border walls. For its socio-economic commentary, stellar acting, and disturbing tale, Cryptic Rock gives Beneath Us 4 of 5 stars.