Under the Bed, the latest from writer Eric Stolze and director Steven C. Miller, seems like it wants to capture that sense of horror we all had as pre-teens. You know that feeling, that foreboding fear that is pretty pedestrian when you examine it without the filter of nostalgia. When we all feared the dark and some dangerous monster stalking us from our closets or under our beds. From the view of adulthood, all of that seems a lot less scary and way more silly, but when you are living it as a prepubescent it is serious business. The film itself seems to approach that seriousness with an earnest attempt to set aside the inherent silliness. And mostly it succeeds.
Under the Bed begins as Neal Hausman(Jonny Weston) returns home to his father(Peter Holden), younger brother(Gattlin Griffith), and potential mother-in-law(Musetta Vander) after a dark incident that ended with his extradition to live with an aunt in Florida. Through the well-paced first act we learn what the threat that ended with Neal being sent away hasn’t subsided in his absence. Hint, that threat is under the bed.
It is important to note that the first act is well-paced because that is really the last time the film manages that. From the second act onwards the film seems real confused on what it wants to be and where it would like to go. A large portion of the film plays out like a “Goosebumps” style tale of nighttime, preadolescent fears. The problem with that is that the middle of the film seems meandering and confused enough that it will probably lose a large portion of that demographic of viewer. Instead of approaching the subject matter in a true childlike manner, it stops and deals with awkward familial arguments and confrontations. It also features a strange, tacked on, love interest for the older brother. The love interest could not only be completely eliminated from the film with no ill effects on the story, it nearly brings the narrative to a screeching halt whenever she’s on screen. All of these more superfluous elements make the script seem confused about its themes and story. What seems like a simple story of two brothers bonding against terrifying forces out of their control, expands to a lot of narrative dead ends and conflicting narrative tones.
Those conflicting tones are perhaps most notable during the final sequence. While the prior hour or so has felt like a children’s horror film, confused and ill-paced as it may be, the final twenty minutes feels like it would be comfortable in a gore-centric adult horror film. Evil Dead has nothing on the kills found in the final sequence here. While there is nothing innately wrong with gore in a horror film, it is especially jarring, and not in an intentionally effective way when it feels like it doesn’t belong in the film you are watching. The audience goes from “golly gee” to “golly gross” with no real foreshadowing or set-up of any kind. Again, it’s not that gore is used in the film that is the problem. The problem is that none of the parts of this film seem to fit into a cohesive whole.
So, Under the Bed is not a bad film per se, it is just a confused one. With its confused pacing and story elements it is not clear who the audience for this film would really be. As a cinematic experience it is all over the place and thematically confusing, leaving the audience at arms length from the events happening on screen. That means that the nostalgia-hazed adolescent horror is mostly effective for what it is, but the entirety of the film can’t help but trip over its own confused storytelling.