Readers of this modest little site probably know I have a soft spot for all kinds of science-fiction. That even includes movies like “Underwater”, a sci-fi/horror/survival mashup from director William Eubank. The movie follows a pretty familiar path – survivors find themselves trapped after a catastrophic event and must find a way to escape. Of course they won’t all make it out (they never do in these things). But who survives and who doesn’t, that is the question.
“Underwater” isn’t all that interested in setup or background. It opens with a series of images and reports that tell us a giant corporation is drilling for resources on the ocean floor deep down in the crescent-shaped Mariana Trench. From there the movie wastes no time getting going. We are immediately dropped nearly seven miles below the ocean’s surface where we meet Norah. She’s played by Kristen Stewart with cropped blonde hair almost as if she were prepping for a Jean Seberg biopic.
Norah is a mechanical engineer living and working on the Keppler 822 Deep Sea Station. Within a minute of actually screen time she begins hearing strange noises which are never a good sign. In an instant the hull of the facility begins to crack and Pacific Ocean water gushes in at every seam. Norah instinctually springs into action sprinting towards a hub where she is joined by a tech named Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie). The two seal off the hub and begin their search for other survivors. The entire opening sequence is tense, energetic, even a bit thrilling.
Norah and Rodrigo eventually meet up with a handful of other station dwellers. Several of them fit particular types common to these movies: the stoic captain (Vincent Cassel), the terrified young technician who everyone tries to keep calm (Jessica Henwick), and the yawn-worthy comic relief (T.J. Miller before his litany of bad behavior had surfaced). None of the characters really develop past what you first see although Stewart deserves credit. She works hard to bring a welcomed vulnerability to Norah who turns out to be a tough woman but a very human one as well.
While the movie starts strong it’s hampered by a hit-or-miss mid-section. Way too much time is spent walking along the ocean floor in the dark murky waters. At first the tension is thick as the survivors come face-to-face with the harsh environment while an unknown and unseen predator prowls around in the shadows. But it eventually runs its course. And so much time in the water leads to several instances of undecipherable effects shots.
“Underwater” gets back on track in the third act where it fully embraces its ‘creature feature’ influences. Unfortunately the story doesn’t get any deeper and some character motivations are still a little muddled. But for a movie that languished in development purgatory for three years following Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, it ends up being a fun although shallow (horrible pun intended) popcorn genre flick.
There are some who for whatever reason have zero tolerance for these kinds of movies. Perhaps its the redundancy of ideas or the predictable story structures. Maybe it’s the stock characters or their lack of depth. Those gripes aren’t without merit. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to have with these genre pictures. All of those things describe “Underwater” to a T. It’s not all that original and it has some character issues. At the same time it’s a fun deep-sea survival romp that essentially delivers on its promises.
VERDICT – 3 STARS