What do you get when you mix the mystical fun of Joe Dante with the gross brutality of Wes Craven? If you asked me that question about a week ago, I would have been hard-pressed to find an example, but now that I’ve seen director Steven C. Miller’s latest release, I can instantly answer Under The Bed. Written by Eric Stolze, this fresh take on the boogeyman who hides under your bed carries itself in two very distinctive ways, mostly existing as a fantastical creep-fest featuring grabby monster hands and rooms filled with smoke – until a finale that morphs into a gore-filled creature feature. Miller’s film is creative, fun, full of brutally attractive practical effects, and an undeniably entertaining take on a story that’s been re-interpreted for years. Want to know what goes bump in the night? You’re about to find out.
Under The Bed follows two brothers, Neal (Jonny Weston) and Paulie (Gattlin Griffith) Hausman, and their battle with a demonic being who lives under their bed. The evils that started haunting Neal when he was just a child were unfortunately passed to his little brother Paulie when the eldest Hausman child was shipped to his Aunt’s house for two years, as Neal returns home to find his brother in the same sleep-deprived state he remembers. But his father (Peter Holden) and new step-mother (Musetta Vander) don’t believe in such far-fetched stories, so Neal and Paulie are forced to handle their boogeyman problem alone. As their encounters become more intense and their parents become more worried though, the boys struggle to effectively diffuse both situations. Can these brave demon-fighters show their parents the truth before it’s too late?
Regarding the structure of Under The Bed, we’re essentially shown two different films. The first “segment” revolves around the presentation of Neal’s backstory (when all this supernatural mumbo-jumbo started happening), what happened to his original mother, and the detective work he does with Paulie to determine why this hell-spawn is still around. Creep-tastic tension is created through Miller’s minimalistic reveals and foreboding smoke, interrupted by quick jolts of excitement through the insertion of ghoulish figures. The ramp-up is slower and might be rather predictable at points, but is completely necessary to prepare us for the explosion of horror Miller has waiting.
Part two of Under The Bed is absolute balls-to-the-wall insanity, as the creature finally presents itself and starts going on a murderous spree. A graphic, bloody spectacle of a killing spree, I might add. The whole aura of childhood mystery is thrown right out the window with this monster’s first kill, as Miller and Stolze make it clear they aren’t f#cking around with some puffy horror piece. While the long build-up may test the patience of some horror audiences, once Under The Bed flashes it’s fangs, it attacks with a pulse-pounding, gleeful ferocity terrifying enough to make gore-hounds squeal. Body parts fly, blood sprays, and everything is pulled together by an appealing creature design and proper use of practical effects that draw upon everything that made 80s horror awesome. Whoever was behind the show-stopping bed transformation deserves a f#cking gold star from Steven C. Miller, because that psychotic piece of furniture made Death Bed: The Bed That Eats look like a a little biotch.
Kudos to our leading men as well, as both Weston and Griffith play their psychologically battered characters well. I personally loved Gattlin Griffith’s work as Paulie whenever he came to the aid of his brother Neal. The two actors had a strong chemistry that made their relationship as brothers believable, exemplified perfectly by the diner scene in which Paulie goes rogue for his brother. This set-up felt rather similar to what Joe Dante captured with The Hole this year, creating a stronger relation to the drama based on brotherly love – instead of just having random kids fight evil. Or even worse, watching poorly acted brothers fight evil. Dodged a bullet there, thanks Jonny Weston and Gattlin Griffith!
With that said, I understand some people aren’t going to dig the tonal differences. If you’re a true adrenaline junkie, you might have a little trouble sitting through the slower segments meant to promote connectivity between the characters and audience, as the action doesn’t really kick in until much farther into Miller’s film. Likewise, story purists may shrug off a few moments that offer little explanation, but c’mon, it’s a horror movie. Maybe I’m just more accepting of the hero finding a monster’s weakness out of pure coincidence, or character relationships not developing fully in favor of monster build-up. But, alas, I do acknowledge them.
Under The Bed is equal parts entertaining and scary, as Steven C. Miller slowly constructs anticipation, then releases the beast from within to grotesquely admirable results (positive connotation because we’re talking about horror). Don’t be fooled by Stolze’s script either, because the blending of utter insanity with what some might call “family horror” really hits on an interesting balance. We’re almost lulled into this sense of safety, only to have Miller’s visual stylings tear that safety to itty, bitty, bloody pieces. Like I said before, Under The Bed feels like the lovechild of Joe Dante and Wes Craven, but don’t take a shred of credit away from Miller. He’s created a style all to his own, and you should interpret the mention of those directors as nothing but a compliment.