Struck by an earthquake, mechanical engineer Norah Price (Kristen Stewart) finds herself fighting for her life on the ocean floor as her underwater research facility starts to fall apart. With all of the escape pods jettisoned, captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel) leads her and the remaining survivors on a dangerous walk through the Mariana Trench to safety. However, once outside, it would seem that earthquakes are the least of their problems…
...some aspects are really, really good, whereas others are as crushingly stale as a salty, tack biscuit.
So… even without Underwater’s pre-titles drum rolling over the 20th Century Fox logo, it should be immediately obvious you’re going to be in ‘Alien‘ territory. Yet, despite it being a predictable tale of things that go drip at the bottom of the sea, Kristen’s Stewart’s run-around-whilst-everything-explodes flic isn’t entirely without merit.
From the crew’s dour military-style fatigues to the gentle updating of the sparking corridors that Stewart and others will soon be running down, this isn’t a wholly crass cash-in on the ‘Alien‘ rats-trapped-inside-a-crushed-tin routine. With her singlet on and her suitable scepticism in place, Stewart’s Norah isn’t the latest clone of Ellen Ripley to find herself all at sea. Instead, Kristen Stewart is more a combination of ‘Alien 3‘s Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy’s Capa from Danny Boyle’s ‘Sunshine‘. Competent yet compromised, she plays Norah as a straight-ahead girl doing more than just kicking for the surface.
Joining her in this actorly ascent is Vincent Cassel. Mercurial as he is unpredictable, even from his arrival in Matthieu Kassovitz’s ‘La Haine‘, Cassel decides to deliciously underplay his part of Lucien, which is ideal for an actor who doesn’t have to try and character that doesn’t need to either.
So, the question is why hasn’t Underwater shown up more obviously on your radar? The reason is that the plot is mired in the decent memories and James Cameron’s ‘The Abyss‘ and Ridley Scott’s already mentioned classic, ‘Alien‘. Couple that with the dead weights that were 1998’s ‘Sphere’ and the even worse 2017’s ‘Life‘ and ‘Underwater’ already had its head under the waves before its plot tried to shake itself free of these associations. In fact, with some really fetching production design, more than competent camera work and an ocean floor whose visibility is believably rendered as a soup, you’d think the movie could break free. However, holding it down is some creature design that clearly fell of the SFX table of ‘I Am Legend’ and worse still, a twin ensemble of blaring sound design and intrusive music which robs each scene of any impact.
In trying the patch these leaks, there’s unsurprisingly a lot of lame dialogue to keep you apprised of the current threat. Which is a shame because, with a few more calmer scenes, the movie’s other characters could have really been allowed to breathe.
However, taking all this in one lungful of acknowledgement, ‘Underwater’ really tries hard gender-wise not to be about “the last man standing”. In a somewhat mixed tale of uneven ambitions, where some aspects are really, really good, whereas others are as crushingly stale as a salty, tack biscuit.
In short, if you can blow the ballast tanks of your expectations and let all those genre adherences wash over you, there’s actually a decent film here struggling to get out.
Definitely worth giving a go, if you can see past its inspirations.0