by Steph Cannon
Teaming up again after their work on 2022’s Ash and Bone, Director Harley Wallen and writer Bret Miller bring us their newest tale of family tragedy and ancient beings in Beneath Us All.
Foster kid Julie (Angelina Danielle Cama) is in a precarious situation with her current living arrangements. About to turn 18, she’s on the cusp of the freedom and ability to leave her current home, run by the appallingly underqualified Todd (Sean Whalen) and Janelle (Maria Olsen). Todd is both verbally and physically abusive, and Janelle spends much of her time emotionally checked out from caring for, or protecting Julie and her additional foster children Sarah (Hanna Wallen), Erica (Emilia Wallen), and Stephen (Malachi Myles).
Julie’s protective bond and allegiance to her younger foster siblings puts her in the unenviable position of trying to decide to do what’s best for her, or stay behind to provide them with some semblance of stability and safety. Thankfully, social worker Rebecca (Kaiti Wallen) begins to see through Todd and Janelle’s unconvincing facade, and starts visiting their residence more frequently, and in the process takes Julie under her wing, attempting to guide and aid her.
It doesn’t take long for the film to shift from slow moving exposition into the horror elements of the story once Julie uncovers a peculiar item while on a walk in the woods. That item, a Yggdrasil pendant from ancient Norse mythology, awakens the viking Frey (Yan Birch). Frey appears more monster than human, unable to speak or walk properly, but Julie is inexplicably undeterred, and offers to hide him away on her property and nurse him back to health.
Despite his alarming appearance and demeanor, Frey at first seems harmless, but thanks to background information at the beginning of the film, the audience is privy to his dark past. As he begins to regain his health and stamina, he unleashes his wrath of insatiable hunger upon the residents of Julie’s home. Once Frey’s first victim is discovered, it’s up to Rebecca and investigative detective Booker (Harley Wallen) to uncover the sinister truths to what, exactly, Frey is, and save Julie from his predatory grasp.
Beneath Us All can technically be classified as a vampire flick, but it goes much deeper than that. Refreshingly, we’re given a creature with many of the vampiric attributes we are all familiar with, while also providing Frey uniqueness to allow him to stand out and feel intriguing. At the same time, he’s foreboding enough to be a respectably frightening villain - especially once he grows more adept and threatening with his abilities.
The strongest point of the film, though, is with the well crafted and authentic characters. Cama plays Julie with maturity and skill beyond her years, delicately balancing her opposing attributes of pure innocence and hardened trauma, which plays well opposite of Birch’s delightfully sinister Frey. Though Todd and Janelle are clearly despicable characters, Whalen and Olsen really know how to toggle the line between abhorrent and begrudgingly relatable.
On that same front, props must be given to Miller and Wallen for their focus on complex character development. These aren’t simple, one dimensional people, and virtually every person on screen goes through some sort of metamorphosis and growth - both good and bad.
The cinematography, mood, and pacing are all notable improvements from Wallen’s prior features, making this a clear contender for his best work yet. If you’re looking for an even blend of family drama and fast-paced horror, Beneath Us All is a vampire movie worth sinking your teeth into.