Directed by William Eubank
Starring Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick
Released January 10th, 2020
The opening scene is fantastic. We’re underwater, in some sort of workspace that is collapsing. Small explosions keep people running toward possible safety while water steadily leaks in. Decisions are made. People die. The survivors are left picking up the pieces. It’s a frantic opening that is well put together. If you’re claustrophobic it’s going to be a harrowing watch. We find out through an information dump in the opening credits that a private corporation is funding deep sea drilling for resources. How deep? Seven miles beneath the ocean’s surface. What resources? It doesn’t matter. This deep sea operation goes haywire when a giant monster makes its presence known. Now we’re talking.
As is commonplace in monster movies, we hear the threat more than see it, which leaves us time to spend with our protagonists. We’ve got engineers Nora (Kristen Stewart) and Liam (John Gallagher, Jr.), biologist Emily (Jessica Henwick), Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel) and resident buffoon Paul (T.J. Miler). Liam and Emily are in a relationship, Lucien has a daughter on the surface, Paul carries around a stuffed bunny, and Nora is alone. So alone. We only get to know one thing about each of these people, as they are basically cannon fodder for our monster. And that’s fine! I love a good monster movie. Unfortunately this is not a good monster movie.
The survivors must navigate the ocean floor to get from their damaged pod to an escape pod, while evading the monster. Their quest feels influenced by modern video games and the deep sea suits they wear are reminiscent of suits found in the games Dead Space and Bioshock. They’re pretty cool. The monster is pretty cool too, although we don’t see a lot of it. There is a reveal about what the monster is that I will not spoil here. It’s a neat idea, but the movie doesn’t do anything with it. This is a major issue with Underwater. There are a lot of story threads that are never followed up on. Early on, Nora saves a spider from the sink. Narratively speaking, you’d think this would pay off at some point. Perhaps it was symbolic. But nope, it’s a forgotten action, like so many other story moments.
Vincent Cassel doesn’t have much to do and T.J. Miller’s jokes feel three years old, but you believe the fear you see on the faces of John Gallagher, Jr. and Jessica Henwick. Kristen Stewart does a quality job selling her character’s decisiveness and desperation while spending much of the film in her underwear, in what I suppose is a nod to SIgourney Weaver in Alien.
When you have an outside force attacking our heroes, it would serve the audience well to know where the monster is in relation to KStew and Co., but director William Eubank doesn’t offer clear spatial awareness. Perhaps he was going for a you-are-there vibe when presenting such a murky and confounding view of being seven miles deep, but I’m just watching the movie from my theater seat eating popcorn and drinking soda. I’d like to know what’s going on. With confusing visuals and a muffled sound design, it’s tough to be invested in the proceedings, let alone become terrified by the creature’s attacks.
I was hoping Underwater would be as fun as other aquatic monster movies such as Leviathan, Creature, Deep Star Six, or Deep Rising, but it’s sadly underwhelming and in the end feels more like a pitch for a creature feature rather than a fully realized film.