The Aggression Scale director Steven C. Miller mines the likes of early Spielberg and Joe Dante as inspiration for his oddball supernatural horror Under the Bed. Miller's film begins deceptively, pitched as a serious, down-to-Earth character drama about a young man, Neal (Jonny Weston), who returns to his family home following a previous incident which saw his mother die in a fire. Father Terry (Peter Holden) believes Neal, who started the fire, to be mentally ill, while Terry's new wife, Angela (Musetta Vander), wants to forget the past and move on. Only brother Paulie (Gattlin Griffith) comes to believe Neal that there is a malevolent entity hiding under the bed, and so they eventually decide to confront it, as their family unit comes apart at the seams. Under the Bed is a film that certainly suffers from an excess of build-up, such that it requires sitting through a relatively sedate first half before the intrigue begins to ramp up. Though it admirably invests a lot of time developing its characters, the central supernatural premise isn't even teased for the entire first act, when the film's brief 90-minute runtime implies that it needs to be brisker and lighter on its feet. That said, performances from the film's youngsters, Weston and Griffith, are uniformly strong, capturing the strong fraternal bond that will seemingly see them through this ordeal. Particular praise should also go to Vander who, as the prim and proper stepmother, is a right hoot trying to downplay the madness that begins to emerge, providing much-needed comic relief to something that could easily have become too self-serious. Fun fact: you might recognise Vander as Sindel from Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, though thankfully her acting chops appear to have improved considerably since. The film's second half does deliver the goods, engaging with the loonier elements of its premise, as the presence under the bed makes itself known, and a gory, intense climax abounds. Though its head-ripping finale might seem at odds with what initially appears to be kid-friendly, it's a pleasant surprise, compounded by an effects-heavy trip into the netherworld for a showdown with the monster. The second half conjures up plenty of laughs, though one cannot be sure how many of them are intentional; asinine discussions about whether pillows contain dead skin are spouted with a complete, straight-faced seriousness, suggesting that perhaps Miller is not as much in on the joke as we might like to believe. That said, the sheer mayhem of the finale leaves a good lasting impression, even if the film is thoroughly hit-and-miss. A film of two halves - one dull, the other exciting and funny.
Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.