The biggest sci-fi disaster adventure creature flick of 2020… thus far.
Seven miles down to the deepest depths of the Earth’s oceans, a futuristic mining colony crewed with 316 personnel starts to come apart. Norah (Kristen Stewart) barely survives, temporarily saving the station for a handful of survivors. Without any working escape pods, the captain of the expedition (Vincent Cassel) pitches a desperate plan: descend to the ocean floor in deep-dive suits designed for routine outside repairs and get to another section of the miles-long facility in hopes of rescue. As the survivors make their way, it becomes obvious what happened to the station was neither geological nor a mechanical failure… and it’s not done yet.
As the January post-awards dumping ground part of the new year, having no big tent-pole films coming out can let a hard-to-define movie get some love it might otherwise miss. Anyone familiar with the 1989 films DeepStar 6 and Leviathan will recognize the elements: isolated underwater location, women in wet and/or tiny clothes, and something outside trying to get in. Remember Deep Blue Sea coming out ten years later and devouring Samuel L. Jackson whole? As an action vehicle for Kristen Stewart and some mindless popcorn fun, is there any chance combining elements used throughout previous ocean-delving fare will result in something more than its waterlogged derivative parts?
Last year’s Crawl was an above-average aquatic disaster-thriller featuring hurricane-proof Florida gators, and their little lizard minds were far from football. While not exactly up to that kind of intimate thriller, Underwater manages to do what it does well enough. It feels like the first fifteen minutes of a typical who’s-gonna-die setup are missing, cutting straight to exactly where the trailer suggests: everything crashing down around Ms. Stewart running for her life. Borrowing opening and closing credit elements from the recent Godzilla films to seed possibilities without specifics and edited to the bone for a trim running time, this fun time-waster is good enough for a matinee if only by using what it steals better than the films it stole from.
If you watch the extras for Crawl, ridiculous subplots and unfilmed scenes were cut that would have ruined it, so losing those bits was a boon. Without knowing more, maybe that’s how Underwater gets away with so much on so little. The sparse dialogue turned in by the screen scribe is pure throwaway — exception: T.J. Miller’s obvious ad-libs — but character actions speak louder than words. While viewers have no idea what motivates Stewart’s Norah, motivated she is: surviving, innovating, and of course saving the day by taking leadership responsibility onto her shoulders. Clever viewers will spot Easter eggs from other films including one reminiscent of the Alien franchise (in reverse?!) but it’s clear the production designer has a distinctive love for their craft (wink-wink, nudge-nudge).
The throwaway line “your clothes won’t fit in there” only seems to apply to lady dive suits, folks, so it’s not exactly high art; it knows what it is and doesn’t stick around too long to be questioned about it. The final cut feels like a mediocre script lucked into a decent cast and scored a hungry production designer with a fair budget, but the studio wasn’t sure exactly what to do with something so eclectic. Who cares if it wasn’t as scientifically accurate as James Cameron’s The Abyss; at least there aren’t any peace-loving water-bending aliens from Atlantis in it, either.
Underwater is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and terror, brief strong language and torn-up briefs.
Three skull recommendation out of four
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