Starring Kristen Stewart, Jessica Henwick, Vincent Cassel, John Gallegher Jr., Mamoudou Athie
You barely have time to get your bearings before Underwater charges full steam ahead with its anxiety inducing deep sea horror. Relative new Director William Eubank and his screenwriters, Brian Duffield (Insurgent) and Adam Cozad (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) borrow heavily from institutional horror and science fiction films. Rarely does Underwater showcase original thinking or ingenuity. Barry Levenson’s Sphere (minus the physiological element) or the more obvious Alien franchise, even the forgotten 2007 indie thriller Sunshine, all seem like movies these dudes took inspiration from. Kristen Stewart keeps the thriller grounded until the horrifying unknown is revealed, doing no favors for the “less is more” vibe Underwater builds half it’s premise from.
Tian Industries has one of the most advanced underwater research facilities to date. A team of scientists, engineers and mechanics live seven miles below the surface, underwater in The Kepler Station. The deeper the crew digs at the bottom of the ocean, the more disturbing the reports become. During a typical morning ritual of depressive thoughts and teeth brushing, Norah (Stewart) is ejected from the facilities as their underwater home begins to implode. She and a handful of others, including the Captain (Cassel), use what little time and resources they have remaining to formulate a dangerous survival plan that will require them to suit up and walk across the ocean floor. The unknown is out there and this team is about to come face to face with their worst nightmare.
The first 45 minutes of Underwater is decently set up, focusing mostly as a survival film with a science fiction element.
The unknown is always scarier than someone’s else’s vision of terror. The first 45 minutes of Underwater is decently set up, focusing mostly as a survival film with a science fiction element. It’s essential a technologically less impressive version of Gravity, but underwater. TJ Miller’s peculiar brand of comedy doesn’t work down here, where tensions are high, and Stewart is stone cold serious. Her performance is selling the audience realistic reactions to fear and danger, while Miller, meant for comic relief, is the wrong amount of counterbalance. Like most horror movies you have a group of people that slowly get taken out by the seemingly unstoppable force. Instead of being in a field with no-where to run, or a creepy house where doors are malfunctioning, it’s claustrophobic tight spaces and oxygen depletion.
Rolling in the deep with Stewart are far too many jump scares and a monster that goes for broke on special effects. Underwater might satisfy those looking for cheap thrills, unphased by lazy writing and picnic basket of borrowed ideas . However, genre fans and cinema lovers will be put off by the pictures lack of originality. While there are some complaints about the dialogue from inside the mechanical suits and visual clarity in the dark scenes, Underwater does create a mood and atmosphere that’s intentionally murky. There are worse January releases you could see. While Underwater doesn’t fit the “better than it should be” spot of Annihilation, it’s anything but boring.
A compelling Stewart performance drowned out by filmmakers reliance on borrowing, instead of creating.