Director: William Eubank
Writers: Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, T.J. Miller
Genre: Action / Horror
Disaster strikes after a mysterious earthquake devastates a deep-water research and drilling facility located at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Now a small group of survivors must somehow walk across the ocean floor to reach the main part of the facility, however the fight for their lives becomes even more perilous as they come under attack from mysterious and deadly creatures.
As with space, there is certainly something undeniably evocative about the depths of the ocean and not only its undiscovered mysteries, but also the unique challenges and dangers that come from merely being there. Well, it is quite clear that those involved with Underwater are very much aware of this, as they complacently think this will be enough (even the title is very much in the vein of ‘does what it says on the tin’) and make very little effort (as well as taking a fair few liberties) in what is a just about watchable and functional genre piece, but a painfully generic one.
Both director and screenwriters do admittedly try to keep exposition of explaining what the hell a huge base is doing at the deepest part of the Ocean down to a minimum with a visual motif of newspaper headlines during the film’s opening credits, which allows after an opening scene involving Kristen Stewart wandering around in her underwear (a surprisingly common and frequent sight during this film) for the action and subsequent quest for survival to start immediately. This economic approach does mean the film is keep to a suitably brief 95 minutes, which certainly helps to keep it watchable.
Naturally clichés a ticked off very diligently as the film goes along as our obvious contractual main character gradually bumps into a few survivors who then often embark on conversations filled with describing what they (and the rest of us) are seeing and what they are going to do about it, as well as T.J. Miller’s dreadful attempts at ‘comic relief’. So to avoid characters stating too much clunky exposition, the high-tech base also thankfully has the usual function that can be found on most futuristic bases found in the films in that there is an automated voice command that very conveniently explains exactly to the characters what they need to do and what is happening on other parts of the base. This is of course a well-used trope for this kind of genre of film (just like diegetic commentators on sports-based films are often used to lay on extremely thick layers of exposition), but at times Underwater does go a bit too far with this that it actually becomes quite amusing. Likewise, there is towards the end a random voice-over from Kristen Stewart, obviously those involved felt it necessary to patronise the audience by getting the contractual main character to explain the thoughts and feelings behind her actions. However, when the only thing in this film with any actual depth is its location, despite Kristen Stewart’s range of expressions being limited to one it is still blindingly obvious why she does certain things, and such a voice-over is yet another painful clunk in a film littered with lazy narrative clunks.
I think it is fair to say that very few of us will watch a film with such a simplistic title as Underwater ever expecting some kind of profound character study or thought provoking allegorical piece, and as a horror / thriller it often produces some moments of effective tension that do every so often efficiently capture the claustrophobia and isolation of the film’s setting that do evoke a true feeling of helplessness. Though there are certainly much better cinematic examples of this (such as Black Sea or Das Boot) the best moments of the film do manage to keep the attention of the viewer and provide a decent level of tension and intrigue, the best scenes are however when the characters are within the bases and not wearing their space, sorry underwater suits. Though again there are some effective moments such as the intense close ups on Kristen Stewart’s face from within her helmet (we never see it for another character, that must have been part of her contract as she is very much the main character). However, some moments when they are wearing the suits make Aquaman feel like a National Geographic documentary as they don’t capture very well the laboured movement of being underwater and in one particular moment Kristen Stewart’s character says as she is the smallest so will try to fit in a particularly tight hole – but they are all wearing what appear to be very similar sized suits!
As the plot plods along there are no real surprises, but there are enough effective individual moments and scenes that keep things entertaining and watchable enough until the end, as well as some unintentional comedy produced by the very lazy writing and NOT any of T.J. Miller’s terrible ‘comic’ lines. Underwater never even tries to reinvent the wheel, but for those looking for something easy to watch, it just about serves its function – just do not expect to remember any of it!
A film that is as generic, cliched and lazy as its title suggests; Underwater does not even attempt to be any more than just a textbook genre piece, and thanks to some effective moments is a perfectly functional and watchable (but highly forgettable) film.
At time of writing Underwater is available to stream on various platforms