Director Larry Fessenden talks about his monster-fish movie 'Beneath' and its 'black humor'

In the new monster movie Beneath, a group of boat-trapped teens are menaced by a giant fish — although, as things go from bad to worse to whatever-comes-after-worse, it becomes clear the real monsters are the kids themselves rather than their piscine predator.

“That’s the point of the film!” laughs Beneath director Larry Fessenden, whose previous credits include 2001’s Wendigo and 2006’s The Last Winter. “That’s a little bit about my obsession that people have been parenting wrong. I tried to show some compassion for the characters, but they’re all just in for themselves and it leads to a bad end. The fish is just doing what he does!”

Starring Daniel Zovatto, Bonnie Dennison, and Mark Margolis (a.k.a. Tio Salamanca from Breaking Bad), Beneath is now playing in select cinemas (including New York’s IFC Center) and is available on VOD. The movie will be screened on Chiller TV this fall.

Larry Fessenden talks much more about Beneath below.

ENERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How are you, sir?
LARRY FESSENDEN:
I’m fine. I’m wandering about the streets. We had a nice premiere last night for some pals and the crew. It got a great reaction. It was really fun. There was a nice vibe in the room, and people were really supportive and they got the movie. I’m getting some nasty responses from film critics who aren’t seeing the black humor in it all. It’s interesting. People come to a movie like this and they want out-and-out camp so they can laugh at the movie, and that’s not really my approach. Neither is it 100 percent serious, because the kids are behaving like such jackasses. You should laugh at the movie, but not in that superior way that I think a lot of movies are going for now. But that’s my cross to bear!

There are many examples of water-set movies having very difficult and troubled productions. Why on earth did you decide to take on this project?
Well, whenever people ask me to name my favorite movie I say, without hesitation, it’s Jaws. I just love that movie and I love boats and I always enjoy a challenge. I feel in every movie the location is one of the characters, so the idea of something this contained, on a lake, in a single little boat was very appealing. And, of course, I’m a fan of Hitchcock, who made Lifeboat, which also enjoyed these specific challenges. I do always joke, though, that the difference between my movie and Jaws is you love the three characters in Jaws. [Laughs] I always say, I never had a shot at making a classic because my kids are basically contemptible.

But it really was a tremendous challenge. We shot in 18 days, and it was really like nine days because it takes twice as long to do everything. We had to shuttle the crew out in little boats as small as the one depicted in the film, and you can imagine that any kind of company move took forever.

You designed the fish yourself?
I did. I wanted it to look like a real fish and not like an evil creature. It’s all part of my sense that it’s really just a natural force doing what it does. I didn’t want to personify it with evil eyebrows or anything.

The mechanical shark used in Jaws was nicknamed Bruce. Did you give your fish a moniker?
The two effects guys that ran the fish called it Babs, which means Big Ass Bass … something or other.

There’s a comic that details some of the film’s backstory?
Yeah. It’s another indulgence, but it’s a beautifully rendered comic and it tells of a similar incident in the ‘60s. It’s funny, because it’s a bunch of kids in a boat with a cassette player singing Janis Joplin songs. And they come to an unfortunate end.

You’ve recently been busy both producing and appearing in films, but this is the first movie you’ve actually directed in seven years. Why the long break?
There’s no money for my kind of movie, a subtle approach to horror or a heartfelt terror-driven story that may or may not have enough gore or enough teenagers. It’s very hard to get these films financed. The smart actors are scared of doing horror because it seems demeaning, and without a good actor you can’t pursue the kind of stories that I want to tell — which is smart, scary movies. But I live vicariously through the films I produce, and I get to see good work that I advocate for get made, and that’s always exciting.

I would guess, given the low budgets of your previous films, that they all turned a profit. This situation must be very frustrating for you.
Yes, but the world is frustrating, and showbiz is just part of it. So, on we go!

I recently saw another very interesting new horror movie called Jug Face in which you and Sean Young play a remarkably convincing backwoods couple.
[Laughs uproariously] Well, we have a little redneck in us both, I think. We enjoyed the dance scene, which is appropriately shot in the film, but we spent a whole night doing those awesome jigs. And Sean was a real hoot. We always have fun together. We had done another film.

What was that?
It’s called Headspace, by the producer of Jug Face, Andrew van den Houten. I blow a hole in Sean’s head, because she’s an alien.

Aw, you’ve spoiled it for us now.
No, no. It’s in the opening credits!

You can check out the trailers for Beneath and Jug Face (which is also now available on VOD) below.


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