Synopsis – A crew of aquatic researchers work to get to safety after an earthquake devastates their subterranean laboratory. But the crew has more than the ocean seabed to fear.
My Take – It is a pretty common news to everyone that January is the month were studios drop films from which they are expecting less to no return. Hence as a filmgoer it is best not to raise too much expectations from whatever is coming out in the next few weekends.
Joining this latest dump, is director William Eubank‘s science fiction horror film, which despite completing filming in 2017, found its release delayed mainly due to 20th Century Fox’s sale to Disney, and now having seen the film, I don’t see why anybody had the burning need to get it released. As barring some excellent CGI, and a few other elements, the film is quite forgettable.
With obvious inspirations from ‘Aliens’ and ‘The Abyss’, director Eubank‘s film is filled with overused clichés of the genre, and hews so closely that one can easily predict each story beat, each reveal, each jump scare. Though, he clearly tried to distinguish the formulaic film with a jittery artfulness rendered in shades of gray and green, it ultimately comes across as a wasted opportunity that could possibly have proven itself a respectable thriller or even a decent genre film provided it had been handled with a more delicate touch and perhaps a bit less plodding through its predictable plot.
While it certainly isn’t as bad as it could have been, and is often elevated by the strong work of Kristen Stewart doing her best impression of Sigourney Weaver‘s Ripley, and possesses a creepy-and-claustrophobic miles-below-sea-level setting, the film, due to its dated formula, feels more like a tedious survival slog.
The story follows Norah Price (Kristen Stewart), a mechanical engineer aboard a massive underwater complex at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, owned by Tian Industries, who are in the business of penetrating the Earth’s crust searching for minerals, by using the Kepler ocean drill.
However, when the structure is rocked by several massive jolts presumably by an earthquake, Norah along with a few survivors which include Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie), Paul (T.J. Miller), Emily (Jessica Henwick), Norah’s close friend Liam (John Gallagher Jr.), and Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel), are forced to make their way down to the ocean floor to cross to another drilling station, the Roebuck, to find escape pods to the surface. While it seems their vulnerable suits and the deadly pressure from the miles of water they’re under will be the most dangerous thing to navigate, there are far greater dangers than they anticipate awaiting them, who are not inclined to let them pass in peace.
Here, director William Eubank and writers Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad deliver a film that zooms past exposition, laid out in newspaper clippings in the opening title sequence, to get us straight to the action. But you know the drill here, don’t get too close to any of these characters, not all are going to make it, they have to move fast in knee-deep water through tunnels and across the ocean floor with fast-depleting oxygen, and by the way, the drilling seems to have awoken mysterious sea beasts. With the addition of these things, the jump-scares are in effect.
But as stylish as it is, and with as many deeply treacherous and inventive dilemmas as the group faces, the film is too faithful to the formula that it never achieves pulse-quickening suspense. It devolves into a grim box-checking as our final girl drags herself around the murky environs of the ocean floor. The film will inevitably be compared to other films because it is not unique.
Which is a shame really, because there really is a nice monster film somewhere in this vortex of verbiage and violence, as the sets look terrific, the costuming is top notch, and the cinematography recalls the misty heydays of science fiction terror.
The proceedings, accordingly, alternate between the boredom of spending time in the company of these mostly one-dimensional characters and brief outbursts of nasty mayhem. And whether it’s the writing, the direction, the tight edit, the dark-and-murky setting or a combination of those factors, the film can be a little tough to follow at times, making it easy, to stop caring about why characters are taking this action or that one or how they got out of this jam or another.
Given that the audience knows little, and will likely care less, about Norah’s background, it’s hard to invest much concern in her story. There’s a tragic incident in her recent past, but it’s dealt with too sketchily to achieve any emotional effect. The film also struggles to decide how seriously it should take itself.
Some of the best moments are when people straight up implode and the film leans into the schlock with tiny bits of the person floating around and the resident snowflake crew member shrieking comically. The rest of the time it’s Stewart’s badassery and Cassel’s reassurance being interrupted by Miller’s attempts at levity.
Yes, as I mentioned above Kristen Stewart is absolutely channeling other great female performances in science fiction/horror films. Her performance will undoubtedly get compared to Sigourney Weaver‘s portrayal of Ripley. I think those comparisons are justified. This film asks Stewart to do a little more in the role however. Stewart has been an indie darling for some time, and her committed performance here, approaching the physicality required for the role, will further endear her to the genre crowd.
Vincent Cassel also brings his own set of emotional beats to role. While T.J. Miller is once again playing himself, John Gallagher Jr., Jessica Henwick and Mamoudou Athie are apt. On the whole, ‘Underwater’ is a formulaic science fiction horror film which despite a few good elements doesn’t manage to stay afloat.
Directed – William Eubank
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 95 minutes