A film like Underwater is easy to look past. Lost within the Disney-20th Century Fox merger —and possibly the uncouth behavior of one of its stars, T.J. Miller— Underwater was shot back in 2017. Three years later it has found its way to theaters. Likely, the movie will come and go with little fanfare. Sure William Eubank’s film is derivative, its cast has little to no chemistry and its dialouge leaves much to be desired. Nonetheless, Underwater, for a tightly paced 95 minutes, is sporadically entertaining and delivers some genuine claustrophobic thrills.
The movie follows a crew of researchers working on a submerged laboratory of some type. Norah (Kristen Stewart) is a mechanical engineer who is suddenly caught in the middle of the action. The walls burst with water and she rushes to salvage what she can of the rig. Quickly we are introduced to other surviving members. Miller, Vincent Cassel, John Gallagher, Jr., Jessica Henwick and Mamoudou Athie join Stewart in the films cast.
Eubank wastes little time getting into the action. It’s nonstop for the rest of the film for the most part. Cinematographer Bojan Bazelli creates some really cool and thrilling handheld and POV shots in the films opening minutes as Norah and Rodrigo (Athie) crawl through the rubble to find a way out. Bazelli and Eubank do a great job crafting some great scenes in tight spaces. It worked for me, and most of time, it makes for some really effective moments in the film.
The films script, written by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad, opts not to dive deep into characterization. Rather, it goes for the thrills first. Along the way, we learn pieces about characters but they’re never fully fleshed out. I’m not sure you need to in this case. In a way, it works really well. In a chaotic situation as the one presented in the film, there isn’t a lot of time to get know one another I’d imagine. Life is quite literally on the line here, and seven miles below the surface of the ocean the goal is to get to the top. Moreover, the utter lack of chemistry between the cast members doesn’t truly matter here either. The focus is on delivering stylish and plot driving action sequences.
Underwater‘s weaknesses, and ultimately what separates it from being great, is that most of it is relegated to a B-movie level creature feature. It is hard not to draw comparisons to Alien or other taut, creature based thrillers. I mentioned the cast, and Stewart, as she has become, is a really strong presence in the movie. However, because Underwater is pretty much lacking any complexity, she doesn’t have much to do here, and virtually no scenery to chew. All of these actors are capable, but none really ever do more than what the script calls for.
It has its technical marvels. I think the CGI is actually pretty solid. Its action scenes are filmed with competency. Eubank has a very strong focus and the movie is executed with some style. Underwater will likely have its detractors who will want something deeper. Admittedly I’ve been that person many times. Not every sci-fi creature thriller is or has to be Alien. All movies serve a purpose. Underwater serves an audience looking for jump scares, sci-fi thrills and scary creatures. They’ll get all of that with this film. To boot, they’ll get it at an above base line level of proficiency.