The tagline for the 1979 horror-science fiction classic Alien was, “In space no one can hear you scream.” The vastness of outer space, its deep dark nowhere, provided a film with a concept of a single alien life form threatening the lives of a crew on a commercial space vessel with an atmosphere and tone that is completely a horror film.
The influence of Alien on William Eubank’s new film Underwater are easily identifiable, except this film takes places in the immense depth of the ocean seabed, its sunken murky nowhere, that provides this film with a terrifying, claustrophobic environment where a crew on a deep-water aquatics research facility discover a new species of ancient water humanoids. The tagline, slightly modified, aptly applies here, too, “On the ocean floor no one can hear you scream.”
Seven miles beneath the water an engineer named Norah (Kristen Stewart) is quietly making her way around a bathroom. She spots a spider stuck in the sink and helps it to freedom, sparing its life if only for a moment. Norah hears something strange, a creaking noise and then shaking that turns into a catastrophic event for the vessel. Norah barely escapes, saving the life of a coworker, and then proceeds to search for escape and other survivors. But something strange is happening outside the vessel, in the darkness of the ocean floor something has awakened.
Underwater recognizes the kind of film it is trying to be, quite simply a good ol’ fashioned monster movie that happens underwater. And it makes use of its simple premise by creating opportunities to craft tension with its unique environment and offering a nice blend of thrills and jump scares that are accommodated by some really great, slowly revealed creature designs. There are a few scenes in the muddy and cloudy water when some of the action is hard to distinguish, but this embellishment within the scenes also allows the creatures to be gradually discovered, which is a nice touch in building expectations and surprises throughout.
The film starts in the quiet, but this only lasts for a few moments as everything soon ramps into high-gear action. And when the quicker pacing arrives, it doesn’t let up, instead building with different set pieces that offer new challenges for the characters to survive. Whether an underwater walk in near darkness or the quick escape from a falling vessel, it works in keeping the attention off the barebones narrative.
The narrative is filled with unnecessary science components that only create distracting questions, and the characters are more plot devices than emotional beings. However, Kristen Stewart, through her interesting performance, does a nice job of adding some emotional depth to her leading character. T.J. Miller, who usually does a nice job of being comic relief, feels out of place amongst the other characters in this film. The jokes he makes fall flat in many scenes and his character doesn’t seem to fit in amongst supporting characters. Vincent Cassel is also stuck in a strange place in this film, playing a character that has an emotional backstory that is only hinted at. For most of the film, Mr. Cassel’s character, which could be the most interesting, is pushed into the background or forced to spout information to keep the narrative moving.
Underwater doesn’t spend much time developing a complicated narrative. Instead, it focuses on being a fun, mostly thrilling, sometimes scary monster movie that has some interesting designs to watch as they develop and consume the screen. Kristen Stewart holds this film together with her interesting performance, even with the limited character development available. Underwater is an entertaining addition to the aquatic horror genre.
Movie Score: 3.5/5