Returning to indie horror once again, filmmaker Harley Wallen (Ash and Bone 2022 – read our review here) and his production team Painted Creek Productions go vampire with their latest feature Beneath Us All. Putting a unique spin on a classic monster, this tale shows evil blood-suckers aren’t always found in fictious stories.
Opening in Scandinavia during the year 912 AD, a child goes missing before a man is chased down by vikings, thrown into a coffin and shipped across seas. Abrupt and unexpected, Wallen and screenwriter Bret Miller earn points for avoiding the played out Transylvania trope we’ve seen numerous times. Fast forward to present day and we are introduced to Julie (Angelina Danielle Cama: Ash and Bone 2022), a kind foster child who’s about to turn 18 and escape her abusive situation.
After her foster dad, Todd Gibbs (Sean Whalen: The People Under the Stairs ’91), unleashes his brand of life lessons and tough love, Julie runs into the woods where she finds a medallion necklace. This artifact later leads to finding a coffin that has been buried for thousands of years. If you’re thinking it sounds far fetch to find such an ancient relic and sarcophagus lost since 912 AD, you’re not alone. An explanation such as deforestation or the biggest earthquake in the area’s history could have easily filled in this plot hole.
Upon discovering who or what the coffin held, we have an E.T. (1982) scenario as Julie hides her new friend Frey (Yan Birch: The People Under the Stairs ’91) in a nearby barn. Except this isn’t a friendly alien. And she isn’t sneaking him Reese’s Pieces. He is an evil who walked the earth long before the current inhabitants. What unfolds is a story with subtle nuance about retaining a sense of humanity under undesirable circumstances.
Cama gives an excellent performance showing development as an actor since joining Painted Creek Productions’ regular cast rotation. Another familiar face who demonstrates onscreen growth is Kaiti Wallen portraying a social worker frustrated with the red tape limitations of her job. Also returning to Painted Creek to give a noteworthy performance is Birch who’s demeanor, although in a weakened state, screams vampire of stature.
Giving just as devilish of a performance as Birch is his The People Under the Stairs co-star Whalen who perfectly portrays a foster father you’d like to punch in the face. And he isn’t alone. Complimenting Whalen’s cold and cruel portrayal of Todd is Maria Olsen (Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief 2010) as Todd’s wife Janelle Gibbs. Together Whalen and Olsen steal the screen as a couple who heartlessly use foster children for a free meal ticket thereby supporting their bad habits and lazy lifestyle.
Although excessive screen-time is used establishing the abusive foster care scenario, Harley Wallen’s latest work shows improvement from previous Painted Creek Productions’ features. With no unintentional humor, no multiple convoluted plot twists, and no attempts at a Hollywood level production on a small budget, focus is kept right where it should be: the story. Backed by solid cast performances, this piece of vamp cinema avoids trying to be something that it isn’t. Exhibiting more depth than your standard blood-sucking gore-fest, Beneath Us All is a heart-felt story that shows evil doesn’t always come with fangs.