Panic Fest 2021: “Below the Fold” and Small Town Darkness

Trigger warning: Below the Fold deals with issues of sexual abuse and trauma.

Clayton Scott’s debut feature Below the Fold, screening at Panic Fest 2021, is not a fun or upbeat movie. It raises question after question and doesn’t leave the viewer with any easy answers. Its two lead characters try to be heroes, investigators, the ones to solve the decade-old mystery of a young woman’s disappearance in their small town, and yet they never seem to achieve their goals. This is not a story meant to make you feel good, nor is it meant to make you cringe at the protagonists’ failures in the same way as a movie like Murder Death Koreatown. Instead, Below the Fold wants to explore the subtle darkness and tension beneath a tight-knit community and the very human terrors that might be lurking just around the corner from the places we’ve come to know and love.

Inspired by a series of true crimes in the movie’s real-life setting of Skidmore, Missouri, Below the Fold takes place on the ten-year anniversary of the night Susie Potter went missing. Local veteran reporter David is assigned to help Lisa, a new hire to his paper that happens to have a history with her mentor, get acquainted with how the paper works. However, he’s tired of reporting on tractor pulls and mundane local happenings. When he and Lisa uncover an unresolved detail in the case of Susie’s disappearance, they begin an exhaustive hunt for the truth that takes them to the darkest corners of their town and the darkest impulses of the neighbors they thought they knew.

A man washes his hands in a background kitchen in Below the Fold
Failure is an integral part of this movie. David and Lisa think they can find everything they need through research and interviews, but they vastly overestimate how willing people are to talk about the disappearance. Their initial efforts are met with doors slammed in their faces, cries of “Get lost!” and an older woman directly telling them they aren’t welcome. Their supervisor at the local newspaper refuses to allow Lisa to work on the commemoration-turned-investigation, then gets legitimately angry at the two when they insist on continuing their work without a shred of solid evidence to prove that it’s been worth it. The world is against these two, and even as they start to piece things together and supposedly make sense of all they’ve seen, the small town seems to want things to stay under wraps. It’s a hard truth that close-knit communities like Skidmore want to move on from instead of dwelling in the past, and it’s never clear whether it’s because there’s something to hide.

As the story progresses, it becomes clear that sexual abuse had something to do with the disappearance, a somewhat connected murder case, and a number of people who could have been involved. A lesser filmmaker might have shown us this element in excruciating detail, or maybe exploited the victims’ trauma for shock and perverse entertainment (can you tell I’m not a fan of movies that are just meant to be disturbing?), but writer-director Scott tells us all we need to know through hearsay from the witnesses, the victim’s friends and acquaintances, and the few neighbors willing to speak to our heroes. The details and implications we hear from others are enough to disgust and unsettle us. Yes, it breaks the unspoken “show, don’t tell” rule of storytelling, but it does so in a nuanced manner that lets us see how the events have affected those involved, rather than reveling in the depravity of a young woman’s victimhood.

A movie of this nature is all about the performances, and the cast is one of the best things Below the Fold has going for it. Davis DeRock and Sarah McGuire have incredible chemistry as the two reporters chasing every little lead they can while dealing with their own past as ex-lovers. They’re the source of what little levity there is in the story, and the tension between them adds another layer to their search for closure in the Susie Potter case. As they explore the depths of their hometown’s secrets, the residents they speak to give incredible performances as well. Everyone in this town seems to have something to hide, and it only raises more and more mysteries.

An offscreen man looks at a photograph of a young woman in Below the Fold
By the end of the story, without spoiling too much, the only true closure we receive is that of David and Lisa’s past together. The heroes of our story aren’t as heroic as they hope to be; they’re convinced of their suspect’s guilt, but don’t have anything to back it up. They’ve placed themselves in harm’s way but have nothing to show for it. It’s a mystery that was swept under the rug a decade ago, and despite the protagonists taking a peek under that same rug to bring everything to light, no one seems willing to talk about it or pull at the threads that could unravel everything they thought they knew. All we have are questions, and yet, Below the Fold doesn’t feel like it ends on a cliffhanger or an unresolved development. It’s a complete story with enough room for the audience to interpret their own meanings (I certainly have my own thoughts on the matter).

Below the Fold is quiet, atmospheric, and unbearably tense in places. You won’t feel any better about the world after seeing it, but it gives you something to consider about the communities you thought you knew well. It’s hard to say I “enjoyed” a movie this dark, but for fans of true crime stories and well-developed characters, I can’t recommend it enough.


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  1. Lousy, lousy ending!!!! After sitting through this dark movie this is what we end up with? Don’t bother wasting your time throughout this whole movie and going back and forth to finally still be left not only in the air but worse by the end of the movie. Total waste.

  2. Ridiculous ending. What was message male reporter received saying he had information reporter wanted. And why did Lisa look like she was going to follow him. So killer just keeps on killing?

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Written by Peter L.

Peter L. (any pronouns) is a writer, filmmaker, musician, DJ, and lapsed theater kid from Raleigh, North Carolina. A fan of body horror and rave culture, he can be found playing guitar with his band AKLF, producing and performing dance music as LXC, or failing to finish another screenplay. He thinks Tokyo Gore Police is horribly underrated.

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