For a film starring Kristen Stewart, set on the bottom of the ocean and featuring some vague, threatening monsters, I thought I knew what to expect. And I was mostly right. However, Underwater from Director William Eubank, includes some turns I didn’t see coming and I’m still at a loss as to whether they were a good or bad thing…
That being said, Underwater is an ok action flick. It’s tense, at times thrilling and frequently anxiety-inducing. It’ll also make you roll your eyes and cringe on occasion.
It’s flawed for sure, but it works well enough as a good way to spend a few hours.
Set in the present day, Stewart’s Nora Price is a mechanical engineer working on the Kepler 822 station in the Mariana Trench. Owned by Tian Industries, the station serves as a platform for drilling.
As you might have guessed, things start to go terribly wrong as the crushing depths of the ocean encroach on the station and people start dying left and right.
With a handful of survivors — Vincent Cassel’s Captain Lucien, T.J. Miller’s Paul, Jessica Henwick’s Emily, John Gallagher Jr’s Liam and Mamoudou Athie’s Rodrigo — no contact with the surface and no escape pods, the remaining crew decides the best course of action is to walk across the bottom of the ocean to another part of the station.
While making this journey, things go from bad to worse as the crew are stalked and attacked by strange deep-sea creatures while the station continues to explode, implode and fall to pieces.
The plot cleverly combines the ticking clock of the station’s ultimate demise with the dangers of the pressure of the water and the vicious creatures. It makes for very few moments of respite, a breakneck pace and set-piece after a set-piece.
It can get a little exhausting but the film mostly manages to maintain the thrills. Unfortunately, in the final act, Underwater stumbles and doesn’t recover.
Without getting into spoiler territory, when the creatures are finally, fully revealed, they lose their fear factor proving that what’s scarier is our imagination. Faced with the knowledge of what these creatures are and what they represent kind of undoes all the good work the filmmakers did in getting us to this point.
Sadly, while there’s a lot of build-up, the pay off is ultimately not worth it.
Underwater has a tiny cast, with only six principal members. I was nervous to spend an entire movie with both Kristen Stewart and T.J. Miller driving things but they’re performances are actually amongst the best in the film.
Stewart manages to tap into a primal, survival instinct that gives Nora some realism, vulnerability and strength. We’re watching Underwater through her eyes for the most part and she does well to carry that weight. Likewise, Miller’s brand of slacker smart-ass actually plays well in Underwater and he brings much-needed levity and fun to proceedings.
Cassel is great, as you’d expect from an actor of his pedigree. Even though he’s starring in a nonsense movie with nonsense lines, he delivers them with earnest truth. The other actors are given far less to work with and disappear into the background for much of the film, though Jessica Henwick’s Emily suffers the worst.
Emily is the token scared, panicky female which becomes annoying before her first scene is even finished. Later, she also has the honour of saying the film’s worst line. You’ll know it when you hear it.
Visually, I really enjoyed the murky, grimy look of Underwater. The scenes on the ocean floor were claustrophobic and terrifying while those inside the station had an industrial, almost space station quality to them. The visual effects don’t look great but they’re mostly quick shots of creatures or structures that don’t give you a good chance to study them.
I also appreciated the use of shakycam throughout. It gives Underwater the feeling of a found-footage film, without it being one. We’re also frequently viewing the action from the first-person perspective which really makes you feel the claustrophobia and fear of being 7 miles underwater with nowhere to go.
It’s not the most cerebral film and the ending is certainly a let-down but Underwater delivers some good scares, decent action and plenty of thrills. If that’s what you’re into, then Underwater is something to check out.
Leo Stevenson attended a screening of Underwater as a guest of 20th Century Studios.
Movie title: Underwater
Movie description: A crew of underwater researchers must scramble to safety after an earthquake devastates their subterranean laboratory.
Director(s): William Eubank
Actor(s): Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher, Jr., Mamoudou Athie, Gunner Wright, T. J. Miller