Dir: William Eubank
Starring: Kristen Stewart, T.J. Miller, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie
3.50 out of 5.00
The tagline for the 1979 horror-science fiction classic “Alien” was, “In space no one can hear you scream.” The vastness of outer space, it’s deep, dark nowhere, provided a film with a concept of a single alien lifeform threatening the lives of a crew on a commercial space vessel with an atmosphere and tone that is completely a horror film.
The influence of “Alien” on William Eubank’s new film “Underwater” are easily identifiable, except this film takes places in the immense depth of the ocean seabed, it’s sunken murky nowhere, that provides this film with a terrifying, claustrophobic environment where a crew on a deep-water aquatics research facility discover a new species of ancient water humanoids. The tagline, slightly modified, aptly applies here too, “On the ocean floor no one can hear you scream.”
Seven miles beneath the water an engineer named Norah (Kristen Stewart) is quietly making her way around a bathroom. She spots a spider stuck in the sink and helps it to freedom, sparing its life if only for a moment. Norah hears something strange, a creaking noise and then shaking that turns into a catastrophic event for the vessel. Norah barely escapes, saving the life of a coworker and then proceeds to search for escape and other survivors. But something strange is happening outside the vessel, in the darkness of the ocean floor something has awakened.
“Underwater” recognizes the kind of the film it is trying to be, quite simply a good ole’ fashioned monster movie that happens underwater. And, it makes use of its simple premise by creating opportunities to craft tension with its unique environment and offering a nice blend of thrills and jump scares that are accommodated by some really great creature designs that are slowly revealed. There are a few scenes in the muddy and cloudy water when some of the action is hard to distinguish, but this embellishment within the scene also allows the creatures to be gradually discovered, which is a nice touch in building expectations and surprises throughout.
The film starts in the quiet, but this only lasts for a few moments as everything soon ramps into high-gear action. And when the quicker pacing arrives it doesn’t let up, instead it builds with different set pieces that each offer a new challenge for the characters to survive. Whether an underwater walk in near darkness or the quick escape from a falling vessel, it works in keeping the attention off the barebones narrative.
The narrative is filled with unnecessary science components that only create distracting questions and the characters are more plot devices than emotional beings. However, Kristen Stewart, through her interesting performance, does a nice job of adding some emotional depth to her leading character. T.J. Miller, who usually does of nice job of being comic relief, feels out of place amongst the other characters in this film. The jokes he makes fall flat in many scenes, and his character doesn’t seem to fit in amongst supporting characters. Vincent Cassel is also stuck in a strange place in this film, playing a character that has an emotional back story that is only hinted at. For most of the film, Mr. Cassel’s character, which could be the most interesting, is pushed into the background or forced to spout information to keep the narrative moving.
“Underwater” doesn’t spend much time developing a complicated narrative, instead it focuses on being a fun, mostly thrilling, sometimes scary, monster movie that has some interesting designs to watch development and consume the screen. Stewart holds this film together with her interesting performance, even with the limited character development available. “Underwater” is an entertaining addition to the aquatic-horror genre.