David Twohy is turning out to be one of those rare screenwriters who are actually better as directors. As the author of the scripts for The Fugitive (1993), Waterworld (1995) and GI Jane (1997), Twohy has an impressive list of Hollywood credits.
But it is as the director of three independent thrillers -- The Arrival (1996), the superb Pitch Black (2000) and now Below -- that Twohy stands out. His films are distinguished by a clean, classic direction of action; a sophisticated sense of the relationships between people under stress; and a camera style that keeps the viewer intrigued without calling attention to itself.
Below has the bad luck to come on the heels of Kathryn Bigelow's beautifully made and politically impassioned K-19, making this submarine picture -- a relatively modest, low-budget affair -- seem skimpy by comparison.
And neither does the screenplay, credited to Darren Aronofsky and Lucas Sussman with a rewrite by Twohy, stand up to the dramatically and thematically dense material of K-19.
Instead, Twohy has delivered a Twilight Zone thriller with a touch of the supernatural. The setting is World War II, and an American submarine operating in the Atlantic, the USS Tiger Shark, has picked up three survivors of an attack on a hospital ship. Two are English medical officers (Olivia Williams and Scott Foley); one is a badly disfigured patient who possesses the kind of secret that badly disfigured patients in the movies generally do. Commanding the submarine is Lieutenant Brice (the highly capable Bruce Greenwood), who assumed the helm when the original captain died under mysterious circumstances.
That's a lot of mystery for one tiny, cramped space deep underwater, and soon it begins to bubble up in the form of inexplicable accidents and ghostly apparitions.
Written and directed by: David Twohy
Starring: Matt Davis (Odell), Bruce Greenwood (Brice), Olivia Williams (Claire), Holt McCallany (Loomis), Scott Foley (Coors), Zach Galifianakis (Weird Wally), Jason Flemyng (Stumbo) and Dexter Fletcher (Kingsley)
Running time: 104 minutes
Taiwan Release: Today
Twohy is attempting a thriller in Val Lewton's classic mode (The Cat People, 1942), in which much is implied but little is seen. It's a courageous attempt, but at a time when horror movies have achieved new levels in blatancy, it may prove too slight for the genre audience. Oddly, the supernatural element doesn't seem that integral to the plot, and Twohy might have been better off without it.
But this is a film of great technical precision, in which every shot has been thoughtfully selected for maximum expressiveness and the crisp, creative editing propels the story along.
Below may not mark Twohy's emergence into the mainstream, but his promise remains undiminished.