Movie Review by Ania Kalinowska
Starring: Jamie Bell, Josh Lucas, Devon Alan, Dermot Mulroney, Shiri Appleby
Director: David Gordon Green
The America featured in UNDERTOW is rural to the core; exposed here are the downtrodden shadows of the vast lands of Georgia, reeking of grime and misery. Many a movie has been made starring the lost part of the US society that resides in its crevices; the genre most illustrating it is the modern horror. Who can forget machete-wielding kin (of the wild inbred kind) waiting to pounce on unsuspecting visitors with car troubles? The setting already seems nerve jangling if you ask me.
Keeping it in the family is a key factor as a dad and his two sons struggle to live the simple life out in the sticks. Aah, you can get the whiff of the pig farm atmosphere a mile away. Sense the tension, too. The younger kid eats paint and other such oddities only to land up perpetually ill. His brother, well represented by Jamie Bell (BILLY ELLIOT), is a trouble-maker, but you can understand where the guy’s coming from: he’s a slave of the place, his dad opting for family exploitation as opposed to hiring helpers to fix up their plot. No wonder he’s harbouring some kind of youthful angst and expressing it through violence.
In waltzes dad’s brother Deel (Josh Lucas, SWEET HOME ALABAMA), himself fresh out of jail, for doing what we’ll never know but it had to be something nasty. Trust me, you don’t want Deel for an uncle. The man is so full of greasy undertones you can hear him slithering behind you even when he’s not in close proximity. But dad, who is a gullible kind of bloke, doesn’t see the dagger in his brother’s paw until it’s stuck in his back (literally). Forcing his children to run away, their uncle in hot pursuit. The future does look dire for the duo…
UNDERTOW often resembles a project of experimentation in terms of style. This has the advantage of oddly placed shots and effects making for interesting viewing. From start to finish the whole film isn’t timid of being disgusting, but it is the title sequence that will stick to the fragments of your memory forever. The first few scenes are of the most shocking you’ll ever experience in cinema. Even seasoned viewers beware: you will flinch! (Note: don’t miss the beginning!)
How this is different from your average thriller horror fusion is that the enemy is tangible and sane – although just as (if not more) deadly. The boys becoming prey is ingenious; their plight across the state is touching as they learn the lessons of life that we will probably never experience (sigh of relief). And all this is presented with uncanny realism.
At times absurd, but highly original, UNDERTOW manages to literally tow you under, at the same time giving you hope that you’ll re-surface wiser in the ways of sleazy uncles and other such offensive characters. Also a fab guide for what not to do in the countryside! I wonder what Paris Hilton trying to live her SIMPLE LIFE would do in this situation…