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‘Beneath the Darkness’

By Cary Darling, McClatchy Newspapers

The teens-in-trouble horror-thriller “Beneath the Darkness” has a few things going for it: It’s not a blood-soaked slash-a-thon; musician-turned-director Martin Guigui manages to build some suspense; and Dennis Quaid conjures up a tongue-in-cheek, weirdly demented performance as the town villain. The result is a film that’s not particularly scary but is more engaging than you might expect.

Travis (Tony Oller) is a smart and earnest but troubled student at a Smithville, Texas, high school who seems to be prone to ghostly visions and mows the lawn for the creepy local mortician, Ely (Quaid), not a good combo. When he and girlfriend Abby (Aimee Teegarden, “Friday Night Lights”) and two wise-cracking school friends spy strange shadows in Ely’s window one night, they put aside all common sense (as well as their cellphones, apparently) and investigate.

Of course, Ely discovers them and it’s war between the odd but seemingly upstanding undertaker and four teenagers claiming Ely is hiding something horrible. It’s up to the main cop in town, Sgt. Nickerson (Brett Cullen, “Damages”), to sort out the truth.

There are logic problems (the aforementioned cellphone issue) and a couple of the supporting performances are flat. But Quaid, upending his image as hero (“The Alamo”) and loving dad (“Soul Surfer”), makes up for it by throwing himself into the role of Ely.

Ultimately, “Beneath the Darkness” isn’t dark enough for horror fans nor transcendent enough to seriously twist the young-people-in-peril plot. But it’s an entertaining diversion.

———

BENEATH THE DARKNESS

3 stars (out of 5)

Rated R (violence, strong language); 96 min.

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