"You know why people like Snowden fucked up?
Because they became the story."
I really like to watch non-traditional, artistic and mysterious films where there's room for a little bit of interpretation. Such a movie with different layers you ponder about afterwards. The problem with "If there's a hell below" (and no, it's not horror) is the fact that little is offered to ponder about. As uninformed as you start the movie, as uninformed you'll be at the end of the film. Truly an explanation of what's exactly going on, you shouldn't be expecting. To be honest, you end up with more unanswerable questions. And my biggest frustration is that I really wanted to know what Debra (Carol Roscoe) wanted to bring out into the open.
Debra is a whistle blower working for the US government (I'm assuming) who planned a secret interview with the young journalist Abe (Connor Marx) for months already . As a "senior information processing engineer" it would have been better if she had searched a bit better through Abe's background, because In my opinion this guy wasn't fit for the job. She knew his name, social security number and who he called that day. You can say she has her reliable sources. But finding out that he's a pedantic smart ass who can't or doesn't want to estimate the seriousness of this case, probably was too much to ask. Debra wants to reveal something that concerns the national security. What implications this information will bring after revealing it and why Debra wants to do this initially, isn't explained thoroughly. Something about a list of names and a hysterical plea about leaders who manipulate poor people to make sure people like Abe can have their necessary gadgets. Yes, it's rather vague.
Debra sees herself as a better version of Snowden, Manning and Assange because according to her their own personality came first instead of focusing on the essence of what was being revealed. The information she's about to reveal obviously is very sensitive information. Before they know it, they are being chased by an unknown SUV. The biggest annoyance for me (beside the complete lack of information) was mainly Abe's behavior. When you're preparing for a secret meeting with someone from the intelligence service for several months already and you know she's going to reveal some highly sensitive information with far-reaching consequences, you should also assume this isn't without risk. Well, apparently Abe doesn't see it that way and looks at it as a typical fait d'hiver. Why else would he briefly take a look at the suspicious SUV? And he refuses to continue driving during a pursuit, because Debra can't or won't give him a detailed explanation. Plain stupid and quite annoying.
"If there's a hell below" certainly won't be appreciated by everyone. It is fairly minimalistic and mainly displays stylistic images of a bone dry, flat desert landscape with Debra and Abe having some superficial conversations while driving through this landscape with an occasional stop. That's another thing I was wondering about. Why the hell did they meet in this region? It's impossible to hide for anyone. The only deviating elements were the two stories told by Abe and one of the pursuers. Although the film is painfully slow, there are some moments of intense tension.
But I can tell you one thing. After the credits you will look in amazement at the screen, totally confused and full of questions that'll never be answered. I have no idea why it had to end like this. Were there hidden clues in the two stories about the caterpillars and turtles? Was it intentional of Abe to put false facts in his story? Couldn't he foresee that Debra knew the composition of his family? And how could Schafer know certain elements of that story? Was the story of the turtles a kind of parable? A hint about Debra? About her destiny? And what was the device Debra used in the beginning? Too many questions and no answers. Just guesses. For some, this will be the strength of the film. Room for interpretation. Well, it was a stylistic work of art. In terms of story however, it was a bit too enigmatic to me.
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