Underwater is basically Alien, except, as the title mentions, it’s underwater. Not that taking inspiration is a bad thing, a whole lot of movies are copies of better movies, but this is way close to Alien. The creatures’ three distinct forms, little, bigger, huge, is basically the Alien mold of facehugger, drone and queen. There’s a direct lift of someone inspecting something writhing closely, being attacked by a small creature, and then the crew studying it afterwards. Even the blue–collar workers are wearing bulky deep diving suits that look suspiciously like the spacesuits in Alien. It edges so close to the Alien franchise, and since this is also 20th Century Fox (now a subsidiary of the Disney Company) who also own Alien, it could have legally just been another Alien. Still, Underwater does a good job of maintaining tension throughout. It looks impressive although some scenes are so dark it’s hard to make out what is happening, which, to be fair, is sometime the point in horror. But as far as scary monster movies about things jumping out at unsuspecting suckers, it’s well done even if its inspiration is easy to spot.
Miles below the surface of the Earth at an underwater drilling station, there is an accident that wipes out a chunk of the station, leaving only a few survivors. Mechanic Price (Kristen Stewart), Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie), couple Emily (Jessica Henwick) and Liam (John Gallagher Jr.), wacky guy Paul (T.J. Miller) and Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel) decide that to escape they have to go deeper underwater and venture to a giant drilling station and then to escape pods. However, along the way they encounter vicious creatures that pick them off one by one and even if they get to the drill there may not be safety awaiting.
Directed by William Eubank, the movie has a sense of rapid pace and huge scale. It never lags in the tension department as things go wrong early and stay that way. The size of the underwater trip seems insurmountable and there are a lot of wide shots where the travelling characters are tiny in the frame to sell the scope of their journey as the film is basically one long walk from point A to point B. Some of the FX shots are a bit murky and the chaos is often frantic which may be a trick to keep the budget down but isn’t all that satisfying. When things are lit properly, the CGI rendering on the creatures looks impressive as they are mostly compromised of teeth and tendrils. The climax of the movie has an impressively larger creature commanding it’s minions that also feels a lot like the queen in Aliens. Although the larger creature isn’t all much of an original design, it’s as if the filmmakers shrugged, threw a dart, and landed on a generic Cthulhu sea monster.
There are some great scare moments, like when one unlucky sap is caught by a monster off screen and the result is very messy. Also, there’s a nice fake out where one character doesn’t make it very far and their demise has nothing to do with monsters; instead it is shown what rapid and unsafe depressurization could do to a person and what happens isn’t pretty. But it is educational in a gory way.
The characters never get fleshed out more than basic tropes. Henwick, who played a competent hero in Iron Fist, gets relegated to the screaming squeamish person, a standard and required horror role. It seems like Gallagher Jr.’s Liam is going to be her steadfast rock but he ends up getting dopey from his suit malfunctioning so they have to drag him along. Athie as the random other guy says his few exposition lines with conviction. Horror movies generally get a comedy sidekick which is Miller’s character. He has some good quips that add some levity, like when he is first rescued by Price and calls her “elfin”. He is one of the few people who seems sensible about how dangerous the excursion underwater can be, although his character is obsessed with bringing a stuffed animal along which is ultimately pointless. Cassel as the Captain makes Tough Captain Decisions but eventually he wanders off by himself and does something incredibly stupid like Captain Dallas in Alien.
The lead character is Stewart’s Price as the story is through her eyes and she is given a bit more of a tragic backstory that is only there so she can make a point about survival or whatever in the finale. Stewart is doing her best impression of Sandra Bullock in Gravity by looking really tired and determined in the void, although Stewart has some good moments like a final voice over that closes the film which gives it unexpected punch.
As far as monster movies go, Underwater is a rote but effective one. It takes a whole lot of reveals and structure from the iconic Alien franchise and doesn’t add much new aside from making everything damp. But the scares are good, the monsters are mean, and when the pandemonium happens it is satisfyingly loud. V
Director: William Eubank
Starring: Kristen Stewart,
Jessica Henwick, T.J. Miller,
John Gallagher Jr.,
and Vincent Cassel