Deep in the Marianas Trench, a group of subsea workers are drilling into the Earth’s crust 7 miles underwater. However, catastrophe strikes when some unknown force destroys their facility. A small group of survivors is all that remains of the crew. Stranded with no hope of rescue, they come up with a desperate plan. They must make their way across the sea floor to another facility that has rescue pods to take them to the surface. However, along the way they must face hazards that they never could have anticipated.
January is notoriously a dumping ground for movies that studios have a lack of faith in. So, you’d be understandably forgiven for thinking Underwater is just such a stinker. However, much to my surprise, I actually found the film entertaining. I suppose it’s partly because of my low expectations going into it, but it’s also because I’m a monster B-movie fan and this film unapologetically dives headfirst (pun intended) into that genre and all its tropes.
Underwater does a few things successfully. First of all, it plays on primal fears of the audience. Within the first 10 minutes, the characters face burning to death, drowning, explosive decompression, and claustrophobia. All that and you haven’t even gotten to the monsters yet. When they do appear, albeit briefly and in creepy flashes, they play on fears of predators lurking in the dark. It effectively puts the audience on edge from the very beginning and rarely lets up. The film builds up to a surprise reveal that I wasn’t expecting and puts a twist on the film that horror and sci-fi fans should be pleased with. Go into this movie knowing as little about it as you can so you can enjoy it more when it is revealed.
The cast is solid all the way around, but let’s face it – they are there to die horrible deaths one by one until there is a last man… or woman, standing. Kristen Stewart is no Sigourney Weaver as Norah Price, but she holds her own. Her character is intelligent, resourceful, and handles the various threats thrown at her with the right mix of professional competence and hand shaking terror. Jessica Henwick is also good as Emily Haversham. She’s fairly annoying at first as the stereotypical character that freaks out and panics in the face of danger, but she eventually develops into a survivor you root for. T.J. Miller also stands out as Paul. He provides most of the much-needed comic relief in the otherwise heavy film. Sometimes it’s a little over the top and out of place, but when he is inevitably removed from the lineup, his lack of presence is definitely felt.
While I saw this movie in 2D, it seems like a film that would be perfect for a 3D screening. With creatures swimming out of the dark and things floating around in the water, it feels like Underwater could make great use out of the 3D effect. (I actually don’t even know if this is shown in 3D. Who knows.)
The production design is also solid. While this is a B-movie, it has the production value of a higher-budget film. The movie also has a very tight running time of only 95 minutes, which feels like the perfect length for this story. It is fast paced and never outstays its welcome.
What Didn’t Work:
While I love sci-fi horror monster movies and all their tropes, Underwater adds absolutely nothing new to the genre. On every front we see something we’ve seen many times before. The plot sticks to the tried and true formula of all these other movies since Alien. As far as the monsters go, there’s nothing particularly unique about them. And almost every scare you can see coming from a mile away. There’s just nothing groundbreaking here. It’s cinematic comfort food.
The Bottom Line:
While Underwater does not break new ground, it’s worth seeing on the big screen if you’re a fan of monster movies or sci-fi horror. If you liked Cloverfield, Aliens, The Abyss, or Leviathan, this is something you’ll want to see before the twists are spoiled for you.
Underwater Review Score: 6.5/10
Underwater opens in theaters on Friday, January 10th and is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and terror, and brief strong language. Directed by William Eubank, the film also stars Vincent Cassel, John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie, and Gunner Wright. You can view all our coverage on the movie by clicking here.