First published by Little White Lies
“Sometimes,” Freud once famously commented, “a cigar is just a cigar.”
A similar principle comes to dominate Steven C. Miller’s Under the Bed, wherein a Freudian hothouse of family dysfunction and domestic repression gives way, in the third act, to an unexpected literalism, and that ravenous creature hidden beneath the protagonist’s bed turns out to be, well, just a ravenous creature, devouring any subtext the rest of the film had seemed to promise.
In the years since his mother was killed in a fire that he had himself lit, disturbed Neal Hausman (Jonny Weston) has been living cross-country with his aunt – but now Neal returns home because his little brother Paulie (Gattlin Griffith) has begun exhibiting a similar conviction that there is something terrifying ‘under the bed’. As the brothers’ behaviour grows more unhinged, their father Terry (Peter Holden) will have none of it, while their stepmother Angela (Musetta Vander), though sympathetic, goes largely ignored.
So the stage is set for a tense psychodrama in which, behind the closed doors of American suburbia, something monstrous is imagined (and engendered) by hidden, nocturnal abuse, whether coming from aggressive, controlling daddy or that creepily kid-friendly guy (Bryan Rasmussen) in the house next door – and Miller handles the build-up expertly, with sinuous camerawork turning the interiors of this affluent middle-class home into a claustrophobic location of secrecy, suspicion and nightmarish paranoia.
Once, however, the monster comes out of its hiding place and sheds its psychosexual slough, all that remains is a silly, sub-Joe Dante clash between kids and creature, with a dénouement so bewilderingly arbitrary that disappointment is inevitable. Close, but no cigar.
© Anton Bitel