By Amylou Ahava
As we descend into the subterranean world of UNDERGROUND, Lars Janssen's directorial choices offer some familiar takes on the sub-genre but creates an interesting enough of a twist to keep this film from disappearing into the depths of found footage films. The movie not only ventures into the newly explored territory of bachelorette party horror but also introduces a unique addition by entangling the celebratory vibe with the eerie confines of a Nazi bunker. The movie shows how a bachelorette party gone wrong draws the attention of the police and the local press, and while the viewing audience gets some clues about the outcome of the situation, we must watch the entire movie to figure out what caused the women so much harm and who survives. The juxtaposition of joyous revelry and the ominous backdrop creates a mostly outlandish combination, but the performances and location do make this a fun film to explore.
Ella (Maaike Tol) is the first of her friends to get married, so her besties are throwing her a prosecco fueled hen party with her four gal pals Riley (Charlotte Dawn Potter), Ziggy (Sapphire Brewer-Marchant), Claire (Nadia Dawber), and Jessica (Caitlyn Barber) in attendance. The chemistry among the leading ladies is very believable and lays the foundation for the emotional journey that unfolds in the claustrophobic setting. The film does really well with establishing the friendship between the five women as they reconnect, reminiscence, and play silly dress-up games to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of their dear Ella. With promises of the "best night ever" they drink, dance, and laugh as they thoroughly enjoy each other’s company.
Bachelorette horror seems to be an emerging sub-genre (Sissy, Stag) but those other films establish tensions right away as there is usually an outsider in the group with some long (believed to be) buried secrets. But in UNDERGROUND, this lot just wants to have fun and their friendship creates an us-versus-them dynamic rather than an in-fighting rivalry. Even when the situation turns dire and the taxi driver abandons the gaggle of girlfriends, they still have each other and not even the presence of an impossibly dark (probably haunted) Nazi bunker will sour this party. In the sub-genre of found footage, this type of film usually heavily relies on establishing place and developing the relationship between the characters, and UNDERGROUND does really well with the latter as we become part of the friend group right away. Their interactions (and drunken behavior) will seem familiar to anyone with a close group of female friends. And while getting lost in an underground Nazi tunnel might seem a very unlikely and preposterous situation, I would like to argue that the ridiculous antics of drunk women know no bounds.
UNDERGROUND distinguishes itself in the realm of found footage films through its innovative approach to camera usage. Unlike many others in the genre where a singular character takes on the role of the cameraperson or each individual has their own camera, this film opts for a unique dynamic. The five protagonists share a single camera, passing it between them as they navigate the treacherous tunnels. This not only breaks away from the traditional found footage formula but also adds a layer of authenticity to the unfolding events. The camera becomes a shared perspective and a collective lens through which the audience witnesses the women's journey into the depths of the Nazi bunker. Additionally, the film strategically employs moments where the camera is set down, which allows it to capture the entire group in a collective frame. This deliberate choice not only showcases their unbreakable bond but also offers a departure from the typical singular focus, emphasizing the strength of their camaraderie within the unsettling darkness. However, as the group descends further into the labyrinthine depths, the tension rises, and the film stumbles in maintaining its atmospheric prowess. While the underground environment is filled with intriguing horror imagery (including echoes of Nazi history and subtle hints of devil worship) the reverberations of voices occasionally muffle the dialogue, which disrupts the immersive experience. So, this oversight in sound design detracts from the intended intensity of the unfolding horror.
A commendable aspect that distinguishes UNDERGROUND is its deliberate avoidance of exploiting horrific WWII images for shock value. The film navigates the Nazi bunker with a delicate touch, steering clear of gratuitous visuals and opting for a more nuanced approach. However, this restraint (while admirable) becomes a bit of a pitfall, as the film fails to fully exploit the scares the location offers. A deeper exploration of the space, more whispery German voices in the tunnels, eerie phonographs from the past, and even more development of the monster would have really taken this found footage film to the next level.
Overall, UNDERGROUND emerges from the dark as a commendable experiment in blending bachelorette party revelry with found footage horror. The camaraderie among the characters breathes freshness into the sub-genre and offers a refreshing (and non-toxic) approach to female friendship. Yet, the film grapples with unexplored tunnels within its narrative and atmospheric potential. With a bit more daring exploration and meticulous development, the film could have transcended its underground confines to become a standout entry in the found footage genre. As it stands, it remains a mixed bag of frights and friendships, leaving audiences both satisfied and yearning for more depth within the depths.
UNDERGROUND is now available to stream exclusively on SCREAMBOX.