Beneath Us All is a modern vampire horror movie that’s steeped in the classic tradition of the fanged undead. Directed by Harley Wallen, the 2023 horror film is another slow burn thriller similar in pace to The Devil’s Left Hand, Wallen’s previous release.
An atmosphere of measured dread pervades Beneath Us All for most of its 88-minute runtime. However, the movie finishes with a frantic final ten minutes capped by an emotional ending.
One of the film’s highlights is watching Sean Whalen and Yan Birch reunite on screen. Both played roles in The People Under the Stairs (1991). In Beneath Us All, Whalen portrays a foster father caving under the stress of his mounting gambling debt, and Birch plays a resurrected Scandinavian vampire named Frey with the need to feed.
Birch’s vampire is a vicious animal of a creature as Wallen drew inspiration from the grittier end of the undead spectrum. Asked about his favorite vampire film, Wallen mentioned a handful of movies.
“I would say it’s a battle between a few. and there are different things I like about each,” Wallen tells Malevolent Dark in an exclusive interview. “The two that stand out storytelling wise are The Lost Boys and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but I also love the change-up in Let the Right One In and 30 Days of Night but miss the old spooky shapeshifting vampires like Nosferatu and Boris Karloff.”
Collaborating with Miller on Beneath Us All
Beneath Us All is Wallen’s second feature-length project with writer Bret Miller, who also wrote Ash and Bone.
“We collaborate on what we’re trying to do and write with a set of inspirations,” Wallen says. “Beneath Us All was a mixture of nods to the films mentioned as well as we wanted a feel of a Stephen King story, but with the visuals mysteriously pretty in the midst of the thrill and horror of it all.”
Beneath Us All opens in Scandinavia in 912 AD where a man named Frey is hunted down for killing a child. He’s then shipped to the Americas and buried with a magical amulet.
Fast forward to the present day, and we’re introduced to Julie, a 17-year-old foster teen living with the strict Gibbs couple and three younger foster children. Whalen and veteran horror actress Maria Olsen effectively portray an older couple beat down by life and prisoners of routine. I remember Olsen from her unsettling performance in I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà Vu as a crazed widow bent on revenge. She’s much lower key here but still manages to emit a menacing vibe.
Julie is played by Angelina Danielle Cama, who delivers an understated but captivating performance as a teenager struggling to know her place in the world. Julie is also a natural nurturer and the de facto emotional support for the other three foster children, especially for a young boy named Stephen.
A Bird and a Shovel
Wallen establishes the family dynamic early in the film with a shocking scene. When Julie finds an injured bird, she places it inside a cardboard box so she can nurse it back to health from her room. When the bird’s chirping is too loud, her foster father smashes the bird to death with a shovel in front of her.
While a tough scene to watch, the bird scenes do show Julie’s innate goodness. The bird-killing also causes Julie to run away into the woods, which is where she finds the ancient magical amulet that was buried with the Scandinavian child killer Frey back in 912 AD. When she returns home, Julie tells Stephen that “there was this feeling like I was bringing something bad back with me.”
Meanwhile, one of the story’s other main characters, a determined social worker named Rebecca, is assigned to Julie’s case and visits the foster home after learning of Julie’s brief disappearance. Kaiti Wallen plays Rebecca with the heart and courage of a social worker who wants to save everyone.
Resurrecting a Vampire
The movie amps up the dread when the magic of the amulet leads Julie to a coffin in the woods where she finds the resurrected body of the primitive child killer, Frey. Like the injured bird, Julie’s nurturing side takes over, and she finds a place for Frey to recover from his animalistic state.
As Julie’s foster home life deteriorates, her connection to Frey grows stronger. Frey expresses an overwhelming desire to hunt for fresh meat, and when Julie leaves him alone, he starts killing people. The deaths prompt an investigation by a soon-to-retire detective named Donovan (played by the director Wallen). However, the initial killings are attributed to an animal attack.
As he grows stronger, nothing seems to sate Frey’s appetite until Julie and him exchange a blood-drinking moment between each other. The intimate action sparks a startling transformation for Julie into a vampire under Frey’s spell.
More attacks occur, and there’s a final, tense showdown featuring all the key characters at the Gibbs home. Like the climax of The Devil’s Left Hand, Beneath Us All finishes with a flourish as Julie’s innate goodness fights the evil infecting her.
Wallen seems to enjoy highlighting the battle within the characters as much as any other aspect of his filmmaking.
“I love moral dilemmas honestly and messing with the status quo when it comes to hero and villain sometimes,” Wallen says. “In Ash and Bone, I wanted to make the parent inept and passive in a paralyzed sort of way. I wanted realists’ worlds to crumble in The Devil’s Left Hand as they run out of earthly options. With Beneath Us All, I wanted a collision course of some pretty inept foster parents and kids finding their way to be impacted by an ancient vampire crashing the party. It is about good and bad, but ultimately a lot of that has shades of grey. It’s interesting to take people there.”
Produced by Painted Creek Productions, Westside Warrior Films and Cama Productions, Beneath Us All is available for streaming on Hoopla, iTunes, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, and Google Play, according to The Streamable.