If you were a typical TV watching child of the 90s like me, then you probably remember a little Nickelodeon series by the name of 'Are You Afraid of the Dark?' A family friendly horror anthology in the vein of programs like 'The Twilight Zone,' the show was a great source of genuinely spooky kid-targeted ghost stories. Now, you might be asking, what does that have to do with the film in question here? Well, periodically throughout its runtime, the movie actually feels a lot like a contemporary episode of that old SNICK favorite of mine, weaving a relatively creepy but benign tale that, despite its R rating and unnecessary amount of cursing, seems like it's much more geared toward a younger crowd. And in that context, it sort of works.
That is, until the third act. Then things go in a drastically different direction -- so much so that it's almost like the film literally gets a different director. With a first and second act much too tame and simplistic for adults, and a conclusion wholly inappropriate for children, this is a complete tonal mess of a movie. But, I suppose I'm getting a little ahead of myself. So, without further ado, submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, the filmmakers call this story… 'Under the Bed.'
Neal Hausman (Jonny Weston) and his little brother Paulie (Gattlin Griffith) claim that they're being preyed upon by a monster living under their bed. Unfortunately, nobody, including their father (Peter Holden), seems to believe them. But when the creature becomes more aggressive, the boys decide that it's time to fight back. With their lives on the line, will the brothers be able to defeat the deadly, nocturnal predator, or will the monster finally get what it wants?
Initially, I was actually intrigued by the flick's moody setup. Early scenes feature an effectively foreboding atmosphere that had my interest piqued, and director Steven C. Miller takes his time establishing a creepy mood. Slow steadicam movements, and wide, isolating compositions establish potential for later scares, and despite the film's low budget, the visuals carry a competent look. Sadly, however, this early promise fades rather quickly, and what was once intriguing becomes increasingly mundane and, eventually, a total jumble of conflicting tones.
As we patiently wait for the real scares to finally come, the thin family drama that rests at the center of the script starts to go in circles. The brothers' father comes across as an irritating jerk and the constant shouting matches between them are exceedingly redundant. Basically, daddy thinks his sons are crazy and just wants them to shut up and act normal, but this point is needlessly reiterated and reiterated and -- well, you get the idea. On a somewhat brighter side, the emotional bond between Neal and Paulie is solid, and both actors are passable in their roles. It's just too bad that the script calls for them to act so incredibly stupid.
At one point, the two brothers are nearly attacked by the monster after realizing that it's triggered by their movements and noise -- but despite how much they claim to be terrified, their oddly nonchalant behavior throughout this whole ordeal seems to imply otherwise. The scene then ends with Paulie leaping on top of his bed, and Neal sleeping atop… a dresser. Why a dresser? Because the floor is simply too dangerous. But why doesn't he just sleep in the bed with his little brother, you ask? Well, that isn't made clear, but my guess is cooties. Most disturbing of all, though, isn't the fact that poor Neal will now likely develop serious back problems, or the fact that Paulie is a selfish bed hog afraid of a little brotherly spooning, or even the fact that a monster might jump out at any minute to devour them both. No, the most disturbing part of the scene is the fact that both brothers willingly decide to go to sleep wearing their jeans. Who the hell sleeps in jeans?!
By the time the third act rolls around, most of the runtime has been dedicated to dull family drama, brotherly bonding, and light, bloodless "boo" scares reliant on incredibly loud music cues and cheesy prosthetic monster hands. With the exception of an odd abundance of f-bombs, all of this material is incredibly simplistic and very tame, and it's exactly this type of scripting and neutered horror that (erroneously) led me to believe that the story was supposed to be geared toward a younger audience. Of course, this all changes when the climax hits.
I don't want to spoil anything specific for those that might actually want to see the movie, but what once started out as a particularly mediocre episode of 'Are you Afraid of the Dark?' suddenly and very abruptly becomes excessively gory and violent with a totally flippant body count. Seriously, things get pretty graphic, and to call the sudden shift in tone clunky and out of place would be a severe understatement. Even worse, the sappy kids' flick aspects of the storytelling don't just disappear either, leading to an increasingly bizarre disconnect between the over-the-top gore and mushy plotting. This is perhaps no better exemplified than in the script's ridiculously schmaltzy solution to the boys' monster problems. I won't ruin it for you here, but its eye rolling cheesiness couldn't be more ill-suited for all the heartless carnage that precedes it.
Totally unsure what kind of movie it wants to be or what type of audience it's playing toward, 'Under the Bed' is a truly head scratching mishmash of disparate tones. On the one hand, the simplistic storytelling, child protagonists, basic premise, and harmless scares play out like they're geared toward kids. On the other hand, the frequent cursing and inexplicably gory finale are clearly intended for adults. Ultimately inappropriate for a young audience, and just plain too dull and too stupid for a mature one, the movie's baffling mixture of temperaments basically creates a flick that's only suitable for… well, no one. I'm not exactly sure how the Midnight Society would feel about this oddly inept ghost story, but I have to strongly disapprove.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
XLrator Media brings 'Under the Bed' to Blu-ray on a single BD-25 disc housed in a keepcase. After some skippable trailers the disc transitions to a standard menu.
The film is presented in a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The image features strong fine details and an appropriately dreamy style, but some artifacts are visible.
The digital source is relatively pristine, but banding/false contouring and faint signs of compression are visible in darker scenes and shadows. Thankfully, clarity is actually very impressive, revealing distinct details in faces, clothing, and backgrounds. Depth is also solid, but the film's intentionally desaturated and blown out style does lead to a fairly flat look. To this end, colors lean toward a blueish gray for the majority of the runtime and whites are overexposed. Black levels remain deep and inky, and outside of the aforementioned artifacts, shadow delineation is strong.
I really wasn't expecting much from 'Under the Bed,' but the film's visuals are surprisingly professional and despite some anomalies here and there, this is a solid transfer.
The movie is provided with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track along with optional English SDH subtitles. Relatively spooky and atmospheric, the mix does an admirable but not so subtle job of bolstering the film's attempts at scares.
Speech is clean and clear, but there is some very faint peaking during the characters' frequent shouting matches. Indistinct, creepy whispers often fill the surrounds, hinting of the dangers that lurk in the shadows, and the track creates a foreboding ambiance. Directional effects (like bicycles swooping from the left and right) are organic with natural pans between the speakers, and though it lacks a little finesse, the soundstage feels alive. Like many horror flicks, the movie relies on frequent "boo" scares, and the dramatic, spine tingling score comes through with ample force and range, jolting the audience during key moments with aggressive music cues and deep bass. With that said, these louder moments do feel slightly unbalanced.
Though nothing special, this is a very competently produced track, and while the film pretty much fails on most levels, the audio does what it can to try and help with some cheap thrills.
Most of 'Under the Bed' is too tame, dull, and simplistic to appeal toward a mature audience, and the rest of it is too inexplicably gory to be appropriate for younger viewers. With a total lack of imagination or tonal cohesion, this is simply a head scratching attempt at indie horror. The video transfer has some impressive elements but does suffer from noticeable artifacting, and while not terribly nuanced, the audio mix bolsters the flick's cheap scares well. With the exception of a trailer, there are no special features, making this disc even more disposable. Skip it.