Writers: Max Pachman, Mark Mavrothalasitis
Cast: Lynn Collins, Rigo Sanchez, Josue Aguirre, Roberto Sanchez, Thomas Chavira, James Tupper
Running time: 83mins
What’s the story: Four undocumented Mexican workers take a job finishing construction work on the private land of a wealthy couple. But, they soon discover their hosts have plans for them beyond drywalling.
What’s the verdict: Director Max Pachman’s feature debut mixes social commentary and merciless suspense for a timely horror chiller.
Alejandro (Sanchez) ekes out a living day-labouring, scraping together money to bring his wife and young son to America. His brother Memo (Aguirre) arrives on his doorstep having hopped the border. Together with the timid Tonio (Tavira) and the hot-headed Hector (Roberto Sanchez) they persuade passing motorist Liz (Collins) they can complete a conservatory she is building.
In the isolation of Liz’s large estate, unease begins to simmer as it becomes apparent she and husband Ben (Tupper) want to make America great again…
Taking the Blumhouse model of restricting the action primarily to a single location, Pachman and co-writer Mavrothalasitis’ use their lean 83-minute run time for an impressive display of economic storytelling.
Well cast actors deliver taut dialogue that swiftly establishes relationships and throwaway quips foreshadow the horror. “Gringos warn their children to stay away from white vans,” Hector wryly observes, “We’re the only ones who jump into them.”
That Liz’s estate is surrounded by electrified fence and Memo discovers grim clues on power tools also ratchets tension. When the horror finally erupts (in disconcertingly bright sunshine) it is almost a relief.
Home invasion movie connoisseurs will be familiar with the plot brushstrokes, but Beneath Us subverts and surprises right up to the climactic moments.
The white elite terrorising have-nots is no longer new news; The Purge built a franchise on it. Yet, Beneath Us makes barbed swipes at surface-level tolerance and cruel privilege that places it in the same company as Jordan Peele’s Get Out or Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs.
Despite the open spaces, Pachman cleverly keeps his film claustrophobic and unwelcoming by placing his Mexican characters into tight spaces. The trunk of a car, a cramped apartment, the partially built-conservatory, holes in the ground.
Sanchez and Aguirre bring a genuine fraternal bond as the brothers who have stumbled into a nightmare. Collins plays it big as the well-heeled (and lethally heeled) psycho humiliating the help before unleashing hell, remaining on the right side of pantomime in a memorable turn.
A superfluous opening flashforward is a rare misstep, but this is a horror gem worth exposing to daylight. The title fittingly works on various levels, and is a grim riposte to a call-in show debate on the immigration issue that closes proceedings…