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The Undertow
2003 - Not Rated. - 79 Mins.
Director: Jeremy Wallace
Producer: Chris Belt
Written By: Jeremy Wallace
Starring: Jason Christ, Julie Farrar, Emily Haack, Todd Tevlin
Review by: James O'Ehley
I feel sorry for America’s rednecks.

Here they are: impoverished people living in the richest country in the entire world. In the midst of untold riches where people live in veritable mansions and drive luxury 4x4s, they have to live in miserable caravan parks and drive beat-up pick-up trucks. If they’re lucky . . .

Instead of being objects of pity (in most other countries people usually feel sorry for the poor), America’s rednecks are ridiculed and scorned by society at large.

They are the butt of jokes in late night stand-up comics’ sketches, the most inbred and grotesque examples are dug up to be paraded as freaks in shows such as Jerry Springer’s for the entertainment of TV audiences, and Hollywood (those same folks living in the mansions and driving the humvees) represents them as hick villains and psycho killers in horror movies such as THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, WRONG TURN, THE HILLS HAVE EYES and DELIVERANCE.

(Nowhere is this culture clash more pronounced than in KALIFORNIA, the 1993 flick in which a yuppie couple gives a cross-country lift to a redneck couple. The redneck male – memorably played by Brad Pitt – of course turns out to be a psycho killer.)

You could argue that maybe it is the rednecks’ own fault, but this is of course one of capitalism’s great lies: the idea that if you have failed at the capitalist game, then it is your own stupid fault and not the system’s. This ignores the fact that a highly industrialized society such as ours obviously has a highly stratified division of labor – some of us will design Web sites for a living, but someone will always have to clean the toilets and remove the rubbish.

Also, what to make of those born into a particular class – not to mention those who inherited their riches while being completely undeserving of them. Can you say George W. Bush?

THE UNDERTOW is one of those films with rednecks as either villains, psychos or idiots, preferably threatening 4x4 driving city folk (as in this case). A group of friends go to the town of Old Mines for a canoe trip weekend. Along the way they discuss a local legend, namely that of the town keeping a deranged psycho killer named “the Boy” around to bump off folks from out of town such as themselves.

As characters in this type of movie usually do, they dismiss this story as being a mere urban legend. We in the audience know better – after all, we know this is a horror movie. And we have seen the DVD cover which features a huge pic of the homicidal maniac: a seven-foot -figure wearing a cushion cover with torn slits to see through . . . something like the Elephant Man at a Klan gathering.

Soon however they are confronted by the unfriendly locals, who in true DELIVERANCE style seem blissfully unaware of the financial benefits tourism usually brings to an area. Just why are the local rednecks so hostile and xenophobic? Well, it seems that the local mayor has convinced them of this.

The mayor it seems had an affair with his own sister and the result was their deformed inbred child, “the Boy”. To cover up the scandal, he convinced the local yokels that, well, “the Boy” was actually sent by God to punish outsiders from out of town. And the locals believed him!

See what I mean about these movies denigrating rednecks? They have to be real morons to believe a far-fetched yarn like that . . .

This low-budget horror movie is distributed by Sub Rosa Extreme (you can visit them at their aptly named Web site). An advertisement that plays when one pops the disc into the DVD player informs one that “Hollywood is a disease, we (Sub Rosa) are the cure.”

May be, but representing the lower classes in a damaging light doesn’t seem to be any of Hollywood’s ills to Sub Rosa’s mind as they are just as keen to perpetuate any such social stereotypes with THE UNDERTOW.

So, with the local townsfolk in on the conspiracy, “the Boy” usually kills off out-of-towners when other means of intimidation - such as abusive cops spilling your beer along the road - fails. However, this time “the Boy” seems to have flipped completely, and isn’t merely content with killing off strangers, but just about everybody - locals included.

Gore hounds might be disappointed to know that THE UNDERTOW takes its time before the expected slaughter finally kicks off. Instead the movie takes its time establishing mood and characters, and the first (predictably gruesome) killing doesn’t take place until we’re well into the movie’s running time.

Instead there are some nice nature shots and to be honest I actually wouldn’t mind visiting the town of Old Mines (it really exists) one day. Seems quite pleasant, except for those homicidal hillbillies roaming about of course . . .

Think the setting of DELIVERANCE coupled with the violence of TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE with the cast of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and you’ll know what to expect of THE UNDERTOW. Oh, and the production values of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT as the film is clearly shot cheaply on a handheld video camera.

In fact the movie seems rather pointless except as a mindless body count, especially when considering its ending (I don’t want to give anything away here though) which is unexpected, but abrupt. Audiences have ultimately little to emotionally invest in as it seems that (as is often the case in slashed flicks) that the point of the exercise is merely to see who gets bumped off next . . .

The camera sadistically lingers on the bloodied victims of “the Boy” and makes one wonder about the type who actually enjoys this sort of thing. (Thanks to budget limitations however the gore looks thankfully quite fake.)

However, THE UNDERTOW can only be better than the recent TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE remake (unseen by me as yet) since, well, there is something just plain wrong about this sort of movie being made with a decent budget.

When it comes to sheer b-movie authenticity and grittiness however THE UNDERTOW will likely beat out most of its rivals.

It however scores a zero for social activism . . .
Movie Guru Rating
A train wreck.  So bad some may find it unintentionally entertaining.
  1 out of 5 stars

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