Underwater (2020)
Underwater (2020)

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 35 min.

Release Date: January 10th, 2020 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: William Eubank Actors: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, T.J. Miller, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie

 


 

I

n the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, Tian Industries’ Kepler Station houses 316 crew members who work in these uttermost depths to run an enormous drilling complex. There are countless hazards at nearly 7 miles beneath the surface, reports of strange sightings, and plenty of side effects on the human body during deep sea mining – most of which are still unknown. Mechanical engineer Norah Price (Kristen Stewart) is one of Tian’s employees, doing her best to keep it together in the unforgiving environment. “There’s a comfort to cynicism; there’s a lot less to lose.”

“Structural failure is imminent!” Immediately, the facility is fascinating, combining a massive network of bases and corridors with flickering lights, the unsettling reflections of mirrors, Norah’s initial isolation in a locker room, and the uncomfortable quietness of being so alone. It’s a perfectly creepy setting for something nerve-wracking to take place. And, sure enough, a sudden water breach proves to be an immensely thrilling introduction to the dangers of deep sea endeavors.

Norah and Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie) think the explosions, the gushing water, and the 70% compromised structural integrity might have been caused by an earthquake, but Captain W. Lucien (Vincent Cassel) isn’t so sure. When the dust momentarily settles, Norah realizes that, except for Paul (T.J. Miller), Emily (Jessica Henwick), and Smith (John Gallagher Jr.), there are no other survivors in the main station – and that all of the escape pods have already been deployed. The six of them have no other option but to descend to the seabed and walk to a neighboring hub more than a mile away – something their diving suits weren’t designed for, and a feat no researcher has ever had to accomplish.

The various buildings and locations are sensational, making the best of low lighting, wreckage, dead bodies, and unexpected noises emanating from just outside the hull. Injuries, obstructive debris, and inadequate clothing (Stewart gets to show off her figure while sprinting around shirtless and shoeless) pair nicely with paranoia, panic, claustrophobic passageways, and the frequent threats of suffocation, drowning, or being crushed by architectural detritus or extreme water pressure. Thrills abound as a one-in-a-million plan of survival gets underway, borrowing from other undersea adventures like “The Abyss,” “Black Sea,” and “Sanctum,” all while the mystery of a final transmission from the drilling team poses concerns of a supernatural kind (not unlike “Event Horizon”). Unfortunately, it’s the suspicious sea life and other sci-fi elements that prove most disappointing; so many realistic vulnerabilities and perils are already present that adding fantastical components feels largely unnecessary.

Miller provides comic relief; Stewart is the tough, quick-thinking woman of action; and the rest of the group steadily succumbs to psychological untethering (smartly, the minimal cast allows for no superfluous characters). Yet the intermittent sequences of alien-like interference plague the otherwise sensible scares (and the abundance of swift jump scares); nothing works against the engaging costume designs, the low visibility and flashing warning lights, and the menace of looming death like unconvincing monsters (wandering down the path of films like “Leviathan,” “Deep Rising,” and “DeepStar Six”). Fortunately, however, the pacing is brisk and a number of scenes of spectacular horror help to offset the problems – further including pointless narration (surfacing only at the beginning and end), the misuse of slow-motion, the terribly dull title, and the brief but hackneyed note about Mother Nature taking revenge on meddling humans.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10