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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

UNDER THE BED (2012) ~ '..subversion of the all-American family and 80's movie-making'. *EXTENDED REVIEW*


*Some Spoilers - watch the film before reading!*

This defiantly quirky, exceptionally playful horror film was all very '80's-style family fright movie' at the start, coming over like a happy marriage between The Goonies and ET (or most recently; 'Super 8', itself a homage from J.J. Abrams to Spielberg's films, and all those starry sky-lit kids trips into reasonably mild terror). Hey - the older brother here was also the older brother in 'The Goonies' (1985) or 'E.T' wasn't he? Not having aged a day. Now that's freaky. Sadly, no - he's actually Jonny Weston as big brother Neil Hausman (and in the role is wonderfully bemused and skulking throughout - a hugely charismatic actor and a sublime performance too). He still looks like Michael from 'E.T' or Brandon from The Goonies though, and I wonder how deliberate this may have been.

I thoroughly enjoyed 'Under the Bed'. It's a movie that starts off like a creaky homage to those big screen kids adventures in creepiness that you always hope are going to get really scary but never quite do, and then surprises us by really turning quite nasty by the final third - but coming from the same director who gave us 'The Aggression Scale' (2012); Steven C. Miller, itself a horror take on 'Home Alone', this isn't entirely surprising.

For Under the Bed's vibe, imagine a film where the young cast of 'The Goonies' get sliced and diced by the ugly pirate at the end or where ET isn't cute and cuddly but evil and cruel, and eats Elliott instead of asking to help him phone home - this is that movie! The kind of homage then, then stabs you in the back when you head to the kitchen for more popcorn - less homage, more massacre. Despite this, there's still a lot of affection for the more old-fashioned genre it digs away at.

'Under the Bed' worked best, I felt, when viewed as an entry in the domestic stitch-up horror genre, that usually features zombies turning a happy home into something more less stable, more anti-happy, while still carrying on with daily tasks. 'Shaun of the Dead' is a good example, with the undead carrying out their normal lives to an extent while coping with the pull of zombie-tradition (eating people basically)or Romero's 'Dawn of the Dead' that deconstructs the shopping experience with bad things happening to people who just want to be normal. Wes Craven's 'The People Under the Stairs' is a good non-zombie example, with a house owner, normal - even if not very nice - on the outside, being anything but what we assume (a member of stable family or even just a boring old sod) when the front door shuts. Horror films like this play with the idea of domestic abuse being hidden behind closed doors - and takes the idea to fantastic extremes.


'Under the Bed' has a similarly subversive, wisecracking tone that creeps up on you and counters expectations while deconstructing normality and at the same time, quite liking the idea of normality in small doses. The relationship between the two brothers in the film; the older, unpredictable, traumatised Neal and his younger brother, the more level-headed but equally traumatised Paulie is effortlessly and gleefully portrayed as an ideal, even if shown with a nudge and a wink. There is some (actually - a lot) genuine warmth to the relationship developed between the two and for once it's the 'not at all annoying but actually really cool' kid brother (Gattlin Griffith, who was outstanding here and an absolute riot in this role at times, while never overplaying the humour) who is clearly his older brother's only hope of getting through the current traumas and the previous breakdown. Certainly not the Aunt he'd been sent off to see for a few years of limbo in the hope he'd fully recover from the house fire in which his mother died and which he - not the boogeyman - had possibly started.

There are even a few cute girls on the scene for the older brother to come home to, but this direction wasn't especially pursued as it would have been in many an 80's horror (Kelcie Stranahan as next door neighbour Kara Evans is especially seductive but casually dismissed for much of the climax). I like to think this was another act of deliberate subversion, banishing the leading actress to her bedroom just when things are getting exciting. If it's just hasty plotting, I apologise. But actually, the script by Eric Stolze is smart and witty and smiles with an apparent love of the horror genre.

Kelcie Stranahan, girl next door!

Kara's dad - Mr Evans (played by Bryan Rasmussen as an achingly helpful but patronising-as-Hell fusspot - the neighbourhood's very own Ned Flanders from The Simpsons) and his doopy kids, Richard and Robert (and look out for the young actor playing Richard - Tyler Steelman - in next year's 'The Secret Lives of Dorks' - typecasting or what?) were fun too. I liked what happened to some of the members of this family at the end of the film - you will too. In fact, I cheered the head-crunching on. Out of all the cast, I half-hoped the stepmom (played by Musetta Vander) would survive, I'm not sure if that's because she walks around the garden braless (again, challenging expectations of what would normally be a cuddly, fully-padded bra role) and seems like she actually cares about the kids, or because she's the only one in the family without 'issues', in fact - she's outrageously normal in a suburban garden of barking mad. I loved her! At the end of the movie, she's also the one holding the rope for the kids as they try to escape from Hell, while the real mother is in ashes in the garage and only comes in useful when used as a weapon rather than when kept in the safety of the urn - yay mum! If that's not subversion of the all-American family and 80's movie-making, I don't know what is.

The bed itself wasn't especially scary (but the build-up to bedtime was) and the plot, about the monster that lives under the mattress so you have to sleep on top of cupboards or - worse - next door with the geeks, taps into the biggest childhood fears that as most of us know, were always to be found in the bedroom when the lights went out.

There's a wonderful scene where Dad tells the boys they need to sleep and forget about the boogeyman as they look at him totally traumatised, then - as  hard therapy - he locks the door. Surely after all those years living with a monster in your house, one that's ripping up your son's room now and then or creating huge clouds of fog seeping out from under the door, that dumb old dad would have realised there was something odd going on under the sheets - other than whatever else odd goes on under the sheets in a hormonal teenager's bed. I mean, if this was going on in your home, wouldn't you be asking your child at the dinner table why he looks so traumatised and in fear of his life before bed every night?

I liked this idea of existence that kind of exists outside of reality, that exists outside of the reach of social services too - it was suitably creepy and weird, like a bad nightmare after too much Stilton and crackers. At the end of the movie, there's a group hug - a new family has been created, but it could be one that works best without parents as well as monsters.

The demon itself was decent enough (well, really good actually - suitably icky and nasty) but the scenes in the creature's world were wonderfully surreal and full of energy and realisation, as good as the underwater sequences in Argento's Inferno, and just as impressionistic. It looked like these scenes were originally intended for 3D - if they weren't, they should have been.The entire 'under the bed' sequence was outstanding and as good a brief glimpse of Hell as you'll ever see in horror cinema where the entire mise-en-scène seems, literally - to be alive.

Under the Bed was a horror film, then, with a clearly and cleverly subversive touch - The 'Burbs meets The Beast in the Cellar and Disney's Don't Look Under The Bed (the imaginary X-rated version), with some outrageously yucky special effects and squished heads at the end (hey - this was a family-friendly horror movie waiting to stab you in the neck just before the credits rolled, mid-popcorn and cherry pop finishing off). Most of all, my God - I had fun.

mark gordon palmer

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