Directed by: William Eubank
Written by: Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr, Mamoudou Athie, T.J. Miller
We made it to the moon, and then never went back, yet we keep trying.
But, I keep asking why we’re not exploring the depths of our own world when it presents the same dangers and the same potential benefit?
Horror films like “Underwater,” which opened today, remind me why we don’t necessarily explore our oceans as readily as the space that surrounds us – it isn’t as visible, allowing for clandestine story telling in a rather cliché way.
That’s not to say that “Underwater” is a bad movie. No. The cast, especially Kristen Stewart does an admirable job in carrying the urgency that the story needed to build on the suspension of disbelief required for the third act.
Rolling under the opening credits, there is a brief history of Tian Industries efforts to drill into the bottom of the ocean, though it does not indicate what Tian is looking for. The location of the film is the Marianas Trench, which is in the western Pacific Ocean – its deepest point, that is, the deepest floor in the world is some 36,000 feet below the surface of the ocean and is 124 miles east of the Mariana Islands.
Having passed Geography 101, you get the idea that the crew is isolated well below the surface and director William Eubank (“The Signal”) has it in for us. Interestingly, after the credits finish, we’re treated to the deserted and dilapidated corridors of the Kepler 822 Station. The long tracking shots and the look and feel Eubank was going for was reminiscent of the space station featured in Tarkovsky’s “Solaris”: well-worn, but not completely unusable.
After introducing us to Norah Price (Stewart), Eubank doesn’t waste time getting us into the action and for the next 93 minutes, we’re on the run from one dangerous situation to the next. The script by Brian Duffield (“The Divergent Series: Insurgent,” “Jane Got a Gun”) and Adam Cozad (“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” “The Legend of Tarzan”) moves at a quick clip, doesn’t spend much time getting to know the crew beyond the essential terror each has and then moving on.
Rodrigo Nagenda (Mamoudou Athie) is the first of the survivors we meet followed by Paul (T.J. Miller, “Deadpool”). Miller infuses his trademark humor while Athie is a man of few words. They eventually come across Captian Lucien (Vincent Cassel), the station commander. His character raised the most questions for me, but Cassel, whose eyes say more than his body language, plays it cool and calm. The team eventually find Liam Smith (John Gallagher, Jr.) and Emily Haversham (Jessica Henwick), who both keep the fates of these characters in question.
The story, taking some of its cues from “Leviathan” and “Deep Star Six,” moves beyond the main station as the survivors must traverse the ocean floor to seek safety. The constant pressure from the depth and the danger of the unknown keep the relentless pace going forward, expertly supported through the score by Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts.
The assumed reason for the incident in the first place is brought more into focus in the second act as a creature who attacked the survivors is revealed in an “Alien” – like scene; the tension in 2020 is just as palpable as it was in 1979.
At the forefront is Norah Price whose skills play really well into the story’s pacing and desire to be as sharp as possible within the limited framework of the genre. It borrows heavily from each of the films, including “Sphere” and the effect of narcosis on the crew at depth.
“Underwater” plays in the same sandbox as the aforementioned films and doesn’t do anything new to reinvent this particular genre. It doesn’t need to. The relentlessness of the pacing and the editing keeps the film fresh, and perhaps relevant to the times we live in.
One things for sure. I’m rooting for space exploration at this point.
PG-13, 95 minutes, A Twentieth Century-Fox Release