Beneath Traps Us Underground


In August 2010, a collapse at the San Jose Mine in the Atacama Desert trapped 33 Chileans nearly 2,500 feet underground, where they languished, awaiting rescue, for 69 days.

“It’s a bitter truth of mining,” writes Hector Tobar in a recent New Yorker profile of the incident, “that sometimes men are buried alive and die of starvation, their bodies never recovered.”

That truth looms over the opening of Ben Ketai’s horror film Beneath, as an outfit of American miners carts its way into the bowels of the Earth, music swelling around them portentously. Our players are perfunctorily introduced — there’s an agro meathead, a sensitive intellectual, an old-timer with one day left before retirement, and a young woman along for the ride — and, after a bit of ingratiating camaraderie, the roof duly caves in.

Now, you might think, given the vicarious fear the world endured on behalf of the Chileans, a horror film about a mine collapse need only induce a readymade sense of claustrophobia to justify the price of admission.

But Beneath exhausts the appeal of its thinly sketched characters almost as soon as they’re trapped together in the mine’s emergency bunker, and it isn’t long before Ketai, tiring of human drama, turns instead toward the supernatural. Are we really so easily bored by the terror reality affords?

It isn’t enough that our survivors must contend with falling rocks and a rapidly diminishing air supply; Ketai soon pits them against the ghosts of miners buried in rubble centuries before. Talk about bad luck.