Recommendation: A fun disaster / creature feature that relentlessly entertains, despite the b-movie premise. 6.5/10.
IMDB Synopsis: A crew of aquatic researchers work to get to safety after an earthquake devastates their subterranean laboratory. But the crew has more than the ocean seabed to fear.
January is usually a dumping ground for movies. With most moviegoers focused on catching up on Oscar-bait films they missed, studios often drop bad, half-baked or uninteresting films. That’s not exactly what Underwater is, although it’ll likely disappoint at the box office. Reportedly shelved for a couple years, Underwater brings a solid cast, a big budget, and a b-movie smashup premise to the big screens. And it sorta works! Of course, there’s nothing original here (kind of an Alien-ripoff), but the SFX are good, it’s not overly sappy, and most importantly, it entertains relentlessly!
Underwater features our protagonist Norah (Kristen Stewart)—a mechanical engineer with a haunted past—on an ill-fated deep sea base, miles underwater. Immediately, things start going very wrong. If a sequence of an underwater station coming apart makes audience’s anxious, the sequence of Stewart crawling through rubble over dead crewmates is panic inducing. Eventually, we meet our principle cast of survivors: Vincent Cassel (as a stoic captain), TJ Miller (smart ass crew member), Mamoudou Athie, John Gallagher Jr., and Emily Hunwick, the latter two are in a relationship. The conceit is simple enough, too. Put on pressurized dive suits, drop another mile down, cruise to a mid-station to recharge, and then walk to the drilling site to find more escape pods. What could go wrong?
Of course, it’s a predictable narrative: The plan goes awry, a couple survivors are picked off, things get more ridiculous, and then a smaller number of our crew escapes. Underwater isn’t new, but it is fun. It’s a mashup of two themes: disaster movie and creature feature. And as the crew moves from set to set—original base to sea elevator to sea tunnel filled with water to the actual sea floor—the dangers are nonstop and suffocating. The movie’s sea floor scenes get a little hard to discern given the darkness and murkiness to be somewhat realistic, but the movie doesn’t stay there too long. The creature reveal isn’t great, but luckily the movie doesn’t solely hinge on it being the big bad.
That’s how the film wins you over. The persistence of the film doesn’t give your sense long enough to get annoyed or tired of any of the films flaws. Coupled with great cinematographer Bojan Bazelli (A Cure For Wellness, The Ring), and great SFX, Underwater is the rare b-movie that outkicks its coverage.
MVP: Stewart does most of the heavy lifting, so she’s rightly the MVP here, but Jessica Henwick as Emily does her thinly sketched character justice.
Highlights: The combo of big budget and B-movie premise is always great. The SFX are great (reported budget of $65m). TJ Miller’s brand of comedy is thankfully not too overpowering.
Director: William Eubank
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox // Original release date: January 10, 2020