Monday, May 07, 2018

It Came from Below – review

Director: Detdrich McClure

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

There is a general fear humanity seems to carry of the other – whether this is an instinctive fear, or something that is instilled as those in power distract from their own substantial failings by pointing at the other and scapegoating them for all of societies’ ills, I can't say. One of the more common (but not only) real world portrayals of this 'fearsome' other is the immigrant, the foreigner. The popular press work the propaganda to dehumanise these human beings and then scapegoat them.

The vampire, of course, is often used to portray the other – and has been used, famously in Dracula, to represent that foreign element that comes to take from us… be that take blood, monies, sexual partners… Clearly the filmmakers of It Came from Below had this in mind – mixing a story of illegal immigration and vampirism into one and we’ll discuss how successful it was later.

giving blessings
However, the film begins with a shaman (or alternative priest/mage of some sort) blessing a group of people. Unfortunately, the first thing I noticed was how very washed out and over-exposed the photography is in the film. Now whether this was deliberate (trying to give a dreamlike quality, perhaps) or just a failure in the filming process (or post-production, even), I don’t really know, but it looks poor and is distracting. Anyway we see the folk (who are all Mexicans looking to make the crossing into the USA) set out and then we see them dead – slaughtered. One woman is still alive and she makes a run for it.

under the overpass
The border patrol drives up, in the vehicle are an unnamed border agent (Dean England) and John Gallagher (Caesar James). They get a call about the bodies and then hear something, they split up. John is our focus, he walks with a pronounced limp, which seemed odd for an active officer (the gait is never explored). He follows a trail through to the underside of an overpass. He sees the woman and she puts a finger to her mouth. Something hits him but he is able to get off a couple of shots before being knocked out.

entering America
After he comes around we see him and the other guard look at the bodies, commenting on the punctures in the bodies and suggesting that it isn’t a cartel hit. Meanwhile a Mexican (Basili) looks to sleep by the river, he was separated from those he was with and is looking to cross the border when night falls. A young man, Diego (Walter Sanchez), approaches. When asked where he comes from he only replies the South, he seems confused by the idea of dreams… John, on the other hand, is dreaming of the attack. We next see Diego lent over the Mexican's body, he takes his hat as he heads Northwards.

So, essentially, John can’t get the attacks out of his head and hears about something similar in LA (these are not by Diego, as the timelines really would not allow that) and takes a leave of absence to go and investigate things. He has sketched (from the brief glimpse of the attack) Diego’s portrait as well as drawing fangs. Diego on the other hand goes to LA, and quickly is befriended by Marcus (Sam Duarte), an illegal like he is. With him he gets ID (after robbing a store for money – I’ll come back to both the robbery and purchase of the ID due to the lore connected with the scenes) but he is soon alone. He sees John hunting him and things draw to the inevitable confrontation.

photo issues
When he robs the store, it is without violence. He touches the storekeeper’s hand and freezes him as he takes what he wants and leaves. When he gets the ID they can’t take his picture as it distorts. There is no real freak-out about this and it is quickly manipulated to make the ID (nothing about the scene rang true). He meets another vampire and she communicates with him by telepathy, something that he is unfamiliar with and this begs a question; how did he become a vampire? The film doesn’t tell us. We know he is from an isolated village who knew nothing of the outside world – so I doubt he always was a vampire as the logistics don’t stack. A white man came and took Diego with him, teaching him English. If he was a vampire and turned Diego then why doesn’t Diego know about telepathy? The film gives us no origin to work with.

Anna Maganini as Rita
So, how does it work with regards him being an other. If the film was doing anything it was probably trying to suggest that the other is not the thing to fear. Whilst we know he has killed, he robs to help his friend, we see him act as an angel of mercy to Rita (Anna Maganini), a cancer victim, and he is able to enter a church as much as John is (indeed they separately sit at the same spot – which indicates they should be classed as the same). Diego is attacked by a small minded racist, which further draws our sympathy. All this builds to us being sympathetic of Diego, but, John is not portrayed negatively either. Though he is driven to hunt Diego (he finds him at one point but can’t catch him as his limp prevents a speedy pursuit) it is a righteous hunt (Diego killed fellow immigrants).

oversized clothes
Yet the film also wants to dehumanise him. Look at the title – reducing him to an *it*. Rita suggests he is about her husband’s size but the clothes (which she comments on the fit of) are clearly too large and make him look clownish and someone trying to assimilate but failing. There is a coda scene at the end, which I won’t spoil except to say that it continues to suggest that those coming from foreign lands are a danger. I suspect the film wanted to undermine the idea of the monstrous other, but by sticking to certain tropes they really do continue to follow the standard allegory.

cgi fangs
That’s not to say it wasn’t an interesting idea, it was. However, it wasn’t well executed. The CGI flash of fang looked false, the over-exposed filming was distracting. The acting wasn’t the best – though Diego was portrayed in such a way that he seemed distant and overworldly, maybe more by accident than design, however. The story needed more exposition, we needed to understand more about motivations and reactions needed to be realistic. I wavered at giving this a score of 4 but the problems demanded it get pushed down to 3.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here and can be purchased or rented from Vimeo.

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