Review by Johannes Black
Underwater continues in the tradition of H. P. Lovecraft-inspired science fiction, with notable predecessors including Jack Arnold’s Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), James Cameron’s The Abyss (1989), and Barry Levinson’s much-understated Sphere (1998). It is exciting and blood-curdling terrain, whose B-movie possibilities have inspired a generation of filmmakers. It should be a winning combination, with a January release date and starring, amongst others, indie-movie heavyweights Kristen Stewart and Vincent Cassel. Unfortunately for 20th Century Fox (ironically, the last picture to be released under that banner, soon dropping ‘Fox’ for ‘Studios’) the spongy formula has been used too many times before, now waterlogged and unable to carry any real substance.
Set entirely in the Mariana Trench (ironically, a filming location for James Cameron’s belated Avatar sequels), Norah Price (Stewart) is employed as a mechanical engineer for Tian Industries: an offshore drilling company whose underwater Kepler station is severely damaged by a crippling earthquake. Assembling with other survivors, including their stalwart captain, Lucien (Vincent Cassel), the crew voyage into the depths of the ocean in hope of survival… only to discover they are not alone.
As each group member falls prey to an unknown species of creature (imagine Zoidberg from Futurama’s given The Lion King’s (2019) ‘photo-realism’ treatment) Kristen Stewart battles her way forward, comfortably playing into the ‘final girl’ trope with every new challenge. Underwater marks Stewart’s second recent misfire with the blockbuster genre, including Elizabeth Banks’ Charlie’s Angels (2019), her versatility replaced by un-emotive, stock responses. I suspect, as a talented star in her own right, Underwater is simply there to pay the bills.
The well-exhausted story is told confidently, but, nearing the half-way mark, it is clearly fatigued by a plodding narrative.
William Eubank’s blockbuster feels more-or-less outdated, as if it should have been released several years earlier. Filmed from Brian Duffield’s blacklisted script, and sat on a shelf for nearly three years during post-production, the signs of its age are implicit. The well-exhausted story is told confidently, but, nearing the half-way mark, it is clearly fatigued by a plodding narrative. Naaman Marshall’s sleek and evocative production design, however impressive it may be, is unable to boost a lazy, wisecracking script: “On a scale from one to ten, how bad is my rig?” “Ten.”
Underwater is entertaining and certainly unsettling, though in a single-use, expendable sort of way. Undoubtedly, this works perfectly as a Friday-night movie, or, maybe, as a first-person video game. Provided, of course, you don’t expect to get anything else out of it.
Underwater is now showing in select cinemas across Ireland.