Director: William Eubank.
Writers: Brian Duffield & Adam Cozad.
Starring: Kristen Stewart, T.J. Miller, Jessica Henwick, Mamoudou Athie & Vincent Cassel.
Underwater. As movie titles go it’s not exactly imaginative, or even attention-grabbing. Sure, you could possibly say the same thing about the likes of Jaws, or Alien perhaps, but (and it may be the rose-tinted nostalgia talking here) at least those titles are somewhat evocative of their subject matter. Underwater, as a title, just feels a little, well, damp.
That being said though, the trailer did look interesting, if somewhat reminiscent of Alien, only with an underwater theme. I have a bit of a fondness for deep-sea monster flicks too, such as The Abyss, Deep Star Six, Deep Rising and Leviathan, so even though the title is pretty unimaginative I thought that it could at least be a fun watch, even if usually, movies that get released in January end up straight in the discount bin within a few months of their release.
Actually, there was one thing that was putting me off seeing this movie – Kristen Stewart. She will obviously always be forever tainted by the Twilight franchise and although I’ve never seen a single one of those films in their entirety, I’ve seen enough to know that (in those films) she has all the charm and charisma of a lobotomy patient with her vapid blank gaze, lifeless expression and persistent mouth-breathing.
But, I’m a nice guy really and although I can appear a bit grumpy at times - having recently been told by a lady at work that I have scary looking eyes – I’m actually more than willing to see what people can do when given something new to try and just because in a different film (or films) someone had all the screen presence of a face drawn onto the back of a spoon, that doesn’t mean that they will be terrible elsewhere.
So, it’s time to ignore the rather uninspiring title, forget about actor's past performances and settle down to have a splash about Underwater.
Firstly, the plot –
A supposed earthquake hits a deep-sea drilling facility causing death and destruction. Survivor Norah (Kristen Stewart) navigates her way through the destruction, meeting up with other survivors as she goes. Together they formulate a plan of escape but things run awry when they discover that there may be an undiscovered form of life lurking in the cold, dark, depths.
That’s pretty much it.
Things don’t start off too well for the film unfortunately though as once the Alien style shots of empty corridors come to an end, we are subjected to a narration that felt so irrelevant and dull that it mostly drifted past me as I watched the images on screen and, like most narration, it felt completely pointless and would make no change to the movie if it wasn’t there at all. Actually, that wasn’t the first pointless distraction either as during the opening credits, there is your standard exposition via news article and research papers and I was reading them and pretty much ignored all of the credits of those involved as they appeared on screen as I was examining all of the other text and images that were being shown.
The movie doesn’t hang about with world-building and there was certainly no time for character building either. It's just straight into the disaster as an earthquake hits the underwater base. The rupturing walls looked pretty impressive as they burst apart but as Norah flees the destruction, as nothing has been set up and because of the multitude of cuts in the scene, there is no sense of geography. A random, unknown individual (Mamoudou Athie) appears alongside Norah, others die and I have no sense of where they are, who the others are or why I should give a fuck about anything that's happening.
In fact, if I hadn’t read the little text snippets at the start of the movie (or done my research prior to watching) I would have no idea about the nature of the underwater base.
The problem is though, due to the complete lack of set-up, when Paul (T.J Miller) is found under a pile of rocks, all I could think was, ‘where did the rocks come from?’ This was an underwater base seemingly manufactured from metal, but here they are crawling through rocks as if they were miners who got trapped in a cave-in.
In fact, as far as the movie goes as a whole, it’s pretty much what you would expect from a January release, called Underwater that stars Kristen Stewart.
It’s OK, kind of.
There are a lot of issues here and there, which for me mainly stemmed from the lack of knowledge of the facility and its layout. This is further exacerbated by some of the filming choices and story moments. For example, during that aforementioned explosive opening sequence, we see Norah fleeing the destruction by running away from camera, but then she slips on the wet floor and slides towards the camera. It does mess with the logic of the scene and for a movie called Underwater, ironically, it doesn’t flow.
There’s also a scene where the characters are prepping to leave their current location and venture outside. Some of them are nervous about having to don the diving suits and make the journey on foot, but other than an initial problem when they first open the external hatch, the journey isn’t even seen. There’s a problem, and then they are at the next location making that whole ‘fear of the journey,’ rather pointless.
If they had said that they had a fear of explosive decompression but were fine with journeying across the inky blackness of the oceanic deeps, then I wouldn't have minded, but they pretty much built it up so much taht it was noticeable due to its omission.
There were other moments where I kind of lost track of what was going on and I thought that at one point that the captain had been killed, only to realise when he was suddenly found alive that it must have been a different character altogether, or perhaps that it was just too hard to tell what was going on amongst the black depths, bubbling bubbles, swishy movements and the fact that I was losing interest.
Perhaps that was part of the problem? That I was losing interest, but if a film about aquatic beasties tearing at people whilst they try and escape from a collapsing deep sea base can't keep my attention, then clearly, something is right with the film itself.
The acting is OK with T.J. Miller being exactly what you would expect from a T.J. Miller character. Vincent Cassel who plays the captain did a pretty good job and was probably my favourite character, but the rest of the cast just didn’t get a lot of opportunities to really emote, they were just there really. Much like her role in Iron Fist, Jessica Henwick felt underused and would have been better off in the lead role.
Which brings me round to Kristen Stewart.
Now, her performance was better than I was expecting, but it still wasn’t anything notable and wasn’t anything for me to even consider her as being a good actor. There was still this thing of displaying surprise by letting her mouth fall open, which is fine to a certain extent, but no emotion made its way to her eyes. It’s the same facial expression in nearly every scene. It’s like watching a public safety video about the dangers of ketamine use.
The underwater scenes are also OK, but as they are dark and mainly consist of people wondering where they are and looking blindly around, trying to figure out their location, again, as an audience, we too have no grasp of where characters are in relation to anything else. Now, you could argue that it all helps to add to the sense of isolation and disorientation, but I just wasn’t feeling it.
The real highlight of the movie though was the creatures themselves. They looked pretty good as they were half-glimpsed skittering or swimming about just on the periphery and I really liked how they had this extendable mouth that was a mixture of the back end of a squid and a dislocated snake jaw.
The end felt a little bit obvious, but wasn't anything for me to complain about too much - for a change.
The look of the diving suits was pretty good too and although they seemed to be covered in all manner of impractical doodads, they had this cumbersome, weighty look to them that felt right.
Whilst a few interesting things are going on and there are some good aesthetics from time to time, it all ends up as simply a bunch of stuff happening underwater.
I’ll possibly watch it again once it gets a Blu-ray release, just to see if my opinion will change and to get my head around what made me think the captain had died when he hadn't and some of the other shots that bothered me, but I think it will be one of those movies that you’ll watch, and then forget all about a few months down the line. In fact, writing this now just a few days after seeing it and things have already started to dribble out of my brain regarding the movie. Sure, that could just be my age but the movie never felt as entertaining to me as any of the other films that I mentioned right at the start of this review.
Even character deaths have started to fizzle out of my brain with the exception of the aforementioned explosive decompression, which was telegraphed enough to not be a surprise. There was one other death that really stood out and although I won't mention the character (or the actor) so as to avoid as many spoilers as possible, there is a scene where this character gets pulled into and then out of their diving suit and the moment just before they coated their diving helmet in raspberry jam as they were pulled into the suit was really well done.
As for everything else? Well, it’s a bit of a shame really as I liked the look of the movie from the trailer and whilst it does borrow heavily from Alien in more than a couple of shots and that’s not exactly original, it would at least have been acceptable if Underwater had been entertaining but the lack of character and world-building, along with no real sense of where anything is in relation to the layout or purpose and copy-paste plot that we've all seen a hundred time before stops the movie from keeping its head above water and instead it flails about, fairly unnoticed until it finally sinks to the depths.