Directed by William Eubank
Written by Brian Duffeld & Adam Cozad
PG-13; 95 Minutes; Jan 10th theatrical release from 20th Century Fox.
Underwater isn’t a great movie. But it’s a hell of a lot of fun, however, honestly – it’s barely a movie. This sc-fi/action/horror flick is more of a thrill ride, akin to the disaster rides at Universal. We jump into a story and rush from set-piece to set-piece, each time ramping up danger and destruction, with a few breather moments along the way before careening into the next collapsing hallway or monster.
Underwater hits the soggy sea-bottom ground running, eschewing a traditional set-up of station-life, character introduction, and exposition. The first act’s expected exposition is handled during the opening credits by way of newspapers articles, memos, people’s notes, etc. Instead, it opens with the accident and charging forward from there. This is likely the smartest decision the movie made.
Here’s what we need to know: we’re on one of a handful of scientific research and drilling platforms seven miles under the sea. There have been earthquakes and others report weird noises and odd figures just outside of range. Want more explanations? Prepare to be disappointed. I wonder how much of this was in design of the script and how much is from the three years of sitting on the shelf and studio recuts. There are hints late in the film of more background: particularly something told earlier turns out not to be true, and a locker with “string-theory” map and some objects. These indicate a longer cut, likely with hints in set-up and pay off later for conspiracy and the like but it was a wise decision to streamline to just the action as much as it could. For Underwater, exposition is unnecessary fluff.
They drilled too much, things to boom, and monsters come out. That’s just about all that is given, and all that is needed. Now the six survivors of the main hub decide to suit up and head to the drill. You see, there may be escape pods they can use over there, as all 20 (for 300 people. Did the Titanic guys design this?) there have been used. One would expect the people on the drilling platform would use all eight of their own, but let’s be honest – it’s just an excuse to traverse the collapsing platform and walk across the ocean floor dealing with debris and monsters for 95 minutes.
The six to make the trek are lightly drawn, pretty direct stereotype for this sort. Kristen Stewart is the Headstrong Lead. She’s an engineer so she can practically solve problems. Vincent Cassell is the Captain with a Tragic Past. He can make plans. TJ Miller (proof this was filmed years ago, before his unsavory nature came to light) is the groan-worthy comic relief with gallows humor. John Gallagher Jr is the Injured Person. He can do tech stuff but the importance of that is cut with the backstory. Jessica Henwick is the Scared New Person. She can freeze up to delay the group enough for the monsters or collapse to catch up. And Mamoudou Athie is the Cannon Fodder. He can die. Each performer is more than capable and bring a little extra to their roles, making the audience care just enough to not beg for their deaths.
Much has been said to compare Underwater to Alien and it’s similar underwater rip-off brethren like Leviathan or Deep-Star Six. I can see this. But it’s not entirely accurate. There is Alien DNA within the flick, mainly in the production design: the long, padded hallways, the design of computers and chairs, putting the heroine in skimpy underthings for long periods of time (still find it odd in the first Alien) and mainly the space, er water apparatus, suits. Underwater is far more of The Descent than anything else. And a ton of HP Lovecraft (Alien had that too). So much Lovecraft. I am saddened the Lovecraftian monsters seem to be CG and mostly bland. But can’t have everything.
One final note before I push you out of the airlock to go see Underwater if it sounds like your thing. The film is often too dark and murky. It fits the location and style, but all too often I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking at. That, and many of the edits and actions are a little jarring. Not enough to throw me out of the flick, but enough to make a note.
Underwater is dumb fun, not aiming for anything great, just 95 minutes of murky, fact-paced disaster and monsters. A good enough creature feature to start the year.