Movie Review Beneath Us (2020)
“You Don’t Want to Live With Them Either”Donald J. Trump
A movie about deranged white people who hire day laborers and then take sadistic pleasure in killing them seems really on the nose, doesn’t it? But as we have said countless times on The Horror Pod Class we do not live in subtle times and as a result, maybe our art has become less subtle as well.
Alejandro’s (Rigo Sanchez) life reflects the life of many day laborers as he takes work where he can, and saves money to hire a coyote to help bring his family over the border. He has an apartment and beer to drink (even if his crappy roommates drink it most of the time). His life grows ever more complicated when his brother Memo (Josue Aguirre) shows up in town. He teaches Memo the ropes including finding work. Along with Memo and two of his friends the four take on what seems to be a lucrative job building the guest house for Lynn and Ben Rhodes. As the job gets complicated its clear Lynn is insane and her MAGA politics only reinforce her crazy ass racism.
The Latinx actors in the film are spot on. We get a little comic relief from a few of Alejandro’s co-workers, but for the most part, the characters feel earnest and fully formed. If the film didn’t approach the story or the characters truthfully and with honesty, the entire project could feel exploitative. It doesn’t. They are complex characters with complex stories. The ninety minutes of the film means that sometimes I am left wanting to see more from the relationship between the two brothers but instead the movie counts on little moments as their situation goes from bad to worse. There is a moment two thirds of the way through the movie where Memo and Alejandro are made to strip and dig their own graves. When Memo strips he seems to expose a series of tattoos all over his body. Alejandro expresses his disappointment and it appears Memo has joined a gang, mostly as a way to protect himself because Alejandro left. Almost all of that is expressed through a series of looks and the dialogue is sparse but the emotion of the moment is tremendous.
The ending of the movie is relatively bleak if not unexpected. This is director Max Pachman’s first feature film and while it is not a perfect film it feels honest and as an inversion of home invasion film it totally works.
If the protagonists worked really well for me than the villains fell woefully short. As in most things lately, the white people were very disappointing. Lynn Collins (Liz Rhodes) is REALLY over the top. Rhodes totally went for it and as a result, if the plight of our day laborers is entirely believable than the actions and attitudes of our antagonists aren’t. It sure seems difficult to hide that level of crazy from relatively smart people even if they are desperate. The camera plays up how beautiful Lynn is but that explanation only goes so far. Her performance much like the rest of the movie is hardly subtle.
Pachman uses fences and gates to his advantage and again they act as pretty straight forward metaphors. The laborers have to pass through a number of different gates to get to the Collins’ home. The gates also make it really difficult to escape. There are some gorgeous vistas of the palatial home overlooking the poorer areas of the canyon as our laborers work. It is one more way Pachman’s vision and politics are clear. Beneath Us received a wide release and I caught my screening at an AMC. While it was not on my radar and its advertising budget seems pretty minimal it should be easy to track down. Its tight ninety minutes and overt political message makes it a really fun watch. Check it out!
Tyler has been the editor in chief of Signal Horizon since its conception. He is also the Director of Monsters 101 at Truman State University a class that pairs horror movie criticism with survival skills to help middle and high school students learn critical thinking. When he is not watching, teaching or thinking about horror he is the Director of Debate and Forensics at a high school in Kansas City, Missouri.