ABOUT THE FILM
Director: William Eubank
Writer: Brian Duffield & Adam Cozad
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie & T.J. Miller
Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action and terror, and brief strong language)
Release date: January 10, 2020
Runtime: 90 minutes
Genre: Action/Adventure, Mystery & Suspense, Horror/Thriller
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Mysterious creatures terrorize crew members aboard a research station located seven miles below the surface of the ocean.
It’s clear from the lack of promotional material and throwaway release date that Disney had no idea how to market Underwater, which they inherited from 20th Century Fox after last year’s buyout. It’s unfortunate too because this efficiently lean, atmospheric and unabashedly hackneyed deep-sea thriller is leagues above your average January catch.
Director William Eubank’s (The Signal) latest wears its influences on its sleeve, with a particular fondness for Ridley Scott’s Alien. Right out the gate, similarly blocky text fades into view in sprawling fashion across the screen before fading back into the blackness of the Mariana Trench. Seven miles below sea level, we bare witness to an immense subterranean drilling rig. A smooth camera pan, reminiscent of the methodical maneuvers which first guided us through the rustic corridors of the USCSS Nostromo, slowly reveals the rig’s similarly silent and lifeless hallways. A relentless series of quakes intermittently breaks the stillness, causing flickering lights and drippage from the ceiling. Thanks to some harrowing sound design, you can practically feel the crushing weight of the ocean as the structure slowly gives way to mounting pressure.
We’re hardly introduced to Kristen Stewart’s Norah, an engineer whose first lines of dialogue come as part of an unnecessary voiceover that only interrupts the otherwise engrossing setup, before all hell breaks loose and water starts flooding the vessel. For the most part, Eubank never lets his foot off the gas. Unlike Scott’s seminal sci-fi piece, Underwater clocks in at a brisk 90 minutes, which is both a positive and a negative. On one hand, you’re never far from the next scare and/or life-or-death struggle between Norah, her small troupe of survivors, and the mysterious, vicious creatures preying on them in the unrelenting darkness of the ocean floor. On the other hand, the film’s penchant for near-nonstop chaos doesn’t leave a lot of room for character development.
There is a light at the end of the underwater cavern, fortunately. Each member of the cast gives a soulful performance that at least gives us a vague glimpse into their humanity. We may not entirely feel we know these people, but the more time spent with them, the easier it becomes to root for them. This even includes Jessica Henwick, whose character begins the film as an annoying whiner but crosses the finish line a winner. Kristen Stewart is predictably great. She seamlessly slips into the Sigourney Weaver/Ellen Ripley role of the reluctant badass. It’s a shame the recent Charlie’s Angels reboot didn’t work out, because she undoubtedly has what it takes to carry an action franchise of her own.
Underwater never develops an identity of its own. Instead, it’s content with copying off the far superior work of its classmates. That said, this blogger can’t deny that it took good notes. If you’re going to rip off anybody during your studies, rip off the smartest kids in class.
Those are my thoughts on Underwater. What do you think? Do you agree with me? Is this even something you’re interested in checking out? Either way, I want to hear from you, so hit me up in the comments below!