Picture Alien, but in the ocean where no one can hear you scream. That must have been the elevator pitch for the 20th Century Fox sci-fi thriller Underwater. The film follows a crew on a drill site at the bottom of the ocean after what seems to be a catastrophic earthquake. Unsure of what lurks deep beneath the ocean’s surface, our small, terrified group is doing everything they can to escape and reach the surface.
As I sat and watched this film, which could be referred to as ‘fine’, I thought of how it likely has ten-times the budget of Neasa Hardiman’s Sea Fever. In Hardiman’s feature debut, she tells the story of fishermen out at sea who encounter a new supernatural event that wreaks havoc on the boat and its crew. The moral of the story is to not take more than the Earth can handle, or there will be consequences. Underwater treads similar waters, but doesn’t really do justice to the message, nor does it provide much in the thrills department. Frankly, in terms of character development and messaging, Sea Fever does it better.
What did work was Kristen Stewart. There is something to be said about her natural capabilities as an actress, and how she seamlessly slips through emotions without any dramatic shifts to her presentation. Her character Norah is a competent mechanic who springs into action the moment disaster strikes. But, as she is running through the motions of doing what is right for the rig, her fellow crew members, and herself, she is terrified. Norah is shaken to the core over what is occurring, whilst trying to maintain a level of coolness to be able to process it all. Stewart does an effective job of playing this trembling heroine who never wavers. The rest of the cast do their best, but are not given the time or space to do show it. It is very much the Stewart show for most of the 90-minute runtime.
Underwater, on the whole, is entertaining. However, there is shyness in it’s approach to the frights, and overall temperate approach to hitting us with its message. This is due to a lack of balance in the Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad screenplay. William Eubank’s directing, however, is well-executed, but restrained considering what is demanded of the genre. His directing places you in the shoes of our desperate protagonists, creating a sense of urgency and claustrophobia needed for this kind of experience.
There are also choices that seem short-sighted that will affect some viewers enjoyment, such as the presence of T.J. Miller and some unfortunate horror tropes. In the end, Underwater is a straightforward creature feature that does what it needs to do to make you think twice about messing with whatever sleeps beneath the ocean floor.
If what you are looking for is to-the-point sci-fi horror that evokes the power of Alien, then you will certainly enjoy yourself. You will especially have a great time if you are a Kristen Stewart fan, as she is front and centre throughout the film’s entirety. And if you are absolutely terrified of the ocean and all the hell that can break loose if humans do not stop disrupting the Earth, then this will have you at the edge of your seat.
Underwater is in cinemas now
by Ferdosa Abdi
Ferdosa Abdi (she/her) is a lifelong film student and aspiring film festival programmer. Her favourite genres are science-fiction, fantasy, and horror and her favourite director is Guillermo del Toro. She is madly in love with Eva Green and believes she should be cast in everything. You can follow Ferdosa on Twitter @atomicwick