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September 16, 2010

Movie Review: Underbelly (2010)

by Jeff Dolniak

Directed by: Matt A. Cade

Buy Underbelly on DVD

On a dark desolate highway, during a sweltering Texas summer, a young girl is being pursued by a mysterious predator. We see inside the vehicle of the pursuer. In the vehicle, is yet another young female applying some sort of "war-paint" on her face. Let's just say, it doesn't end well for this "damsel in distress". This is the opening sequence in Matt Cade's thriller Underbelly. It's a fairly effective and quite creepy introduction; setting up our lead character Henry Rose (Mark Reeb) for the predicament he becomes infused in, having his wife vanish on the side of road . Henry's search brings him to a confrontation with another man, Toby Haynes (Fritz Beer) and his family whose personalities mirror that of the group of psychos in Wes Craven's Last House on the Left. These people are little more restrained than Krug and Weasel, but still have a powerful thirst for murder and rape. Like Henry, Toby, his half-retarded brother, Eugene Haynes (Joe Abercrombie) and cousin, Terry (John Mense) have lost a kin member, Sweet Lily Haynes (Bianca Lopez). Where are these people disappearing to? Is it some kind of supernatural entity?

Underbelly feels a lot like a Coen brothers film except with a few horror themes. Don't get me wrong, this is not a scary film, it's just unsettling at times .The violence is extensive, just not graphic or gratuitous. I give director Cade a lot of credit for that, as it still manages to get under your skin. There are some areas in the film where the plot tends to drag. For instance, the bad guys talk way too much in certain scenes. Before Lily Haynes vanishes, she just mumbles into a mirror for a few minutes, in a means room while a plump donut shop employee whines in a stall. That said, the Lily Haynes character was still kind of appealing, aside from that bizarre scene. Bianca Lopez brings a playful and maniacal energy to "Lily" that I really liked. The performances were good overall, especially, by Beer and Lopez. On the production side, Underbelly has a gloomy, almost "Lynch-ian" atmosphere .The night scenes are shot very efficiently, the editing is sharp; my only issue is that there are a couple of areas in Underbelly where it's out of focus.

R-Squared and the producers of Underbelly have provided DVD buyers with a few interesting extras: Interviews with the cast, a deleted scene and an enjoyable R-Squared trailer reel. I liked watching the interviews; especially one with actor, Fritz Beer. It was interesting to hear anecdotes from Beer and to find out that this project was mainly amongst friends. Sometimes when you hire friends as talent on your film, it tends to bite you on the ass. That's not the case with Underbelly; it will never be confused as being a classic genre film, but it is a compelling and sinister little film. I look forward to seeing what more Cade has to offer with his future projects.

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