MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller/ Stars: Kirsten Stewart, Vincent Cassel, T.J. Miller, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie, Gunner Wright/ Runtime: 95 minutes
Welcome to the month of January aka the first month of the New Year, but for film fans is most widely known as the 7th level of Hell that even Dante was too frightened to write about in the Divine Comedy. Indeed I say this because it seems like, unless your movie is vying for awards and is therefore now in the traditional wide release, 98% of the films released in this month are complete and utter crap. Oh and when I say crap I don’t just mean “so bad its good crap”. No I mean “crap that was probably made because these actors all have bills or debts to pay so they signed on to this because they needed the money crap”. Indeed out of the movies that have been released so far this month nowhere is this more prevalent than in the new “sci-fi thriller” Underwater. Indeed this is a movie that was filmed over 3 years ago, and should have been sent straight to the discount bin at Walmart, but instead is somehow getting a theatrical release in January for….reasons. Indeed how bad is this movie? Well put it this way: this movie is this generation’s answer to such movies as Alien, Leviathan, The Abyss, and Deep Star Six. Unlike all of the movies I previously listed however, this movie has none of the skill or craft of the great ones, and none of the silliness or camp of the meh ones. To use a Pokémon analogy, this movie just floats there like a Magikarp hoping that it will eventually evolve into a Gyarados and become a much better movie in the process. Suffice it to say that, despite a decent Kirsten Stewart performance, it doesn’t. Not one bit.
Now if you haven’t abandoned ship by this point in the review, the plot is as follows: our water-logged misadventure under the depths of the deep blue sea that sadly doesn’t have a pineapple anywhere in sight follows a young woman by the name of Norah. Norah is both an aquatic researcher and mechanical engineer that has found her current place of employment aboard a deep sea mining operation that has decided to take up operations at no less a place than the the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Yet it isn’t long before mysterious circumstances begin to cause a significant amount of the facility to start to fail….which then leaves the station and the people aboard highly susceptible to the immense pressure that is found at the bottom of the ocean thus turning them into compressed accordion-esque versions of themselves….oh and also dead. Sorry forgot about that. Following the initial chaos however, Norah finds herself stuck with a fellow member of the team named Rodrigo, and together the duo set out in search of other survivors. It isn’t long thereafter then that Norah and Rodrigo find themselves first rescuing Paul, and then linking up with Captain Lucien, Emily, and Smith. Finding that they really don’t have that many options accessible to them, our ragtag group of misfit human toys decides that their best chance for survival is to make a last ditch effort and sprint in the Ocean Floor 5K in some experimental yet faulty mech suits that also possess a seriously low amount of oxygen, and reach another station that has more escape pods that is approximately one mile away. However it isn’t long after they set out that this group finds itself coming face to face with something more dangerous than they could ever have anticipated…..
Now a lot of these movies are successful for the key reason that is in regards to just what exactly the monster that is the antagonist of the piece looks like. Suffice it to say then that although this is not a success by any means, this is an area that this movie is dependent on as well. With all of that being said then, I feel you should know movie goers that although they remain hidden for most of the film, Underwater’s primordial monsters are actually not that badly designed and are actually scary to a limited extent. Indeed to go any further would begin to approach the forbidden zone that is spoiler-land, not that it really matters with a movie of THIS caliber, but nevertheless I do feel that these demons of the deep do manage to cause a person to feel a little bit of fear with the limited number of appearances they make in this film. Also of some note is the fact that Underwater also draws a little bit of fear out of the fact that since this film takes place at the bottom of the sea, it can really feel at times like the motley gang of characters we are following are more like the monsters rather than the actual monsters themselves. Indeed the movie does a brilliant job of showcasing this concept by showing that the more these characters choose to move into the unknown in search of rescue, the more they begin to comprehend just how much we as people were never meant to be at this depth in the ocean. It saddens me to tell you then movie goers that just as this fairly interesting concept is introduced into the movie, the movie’s plot quickly decides that this is simply too much to handle and begins abandoning ship quicker than the women and children from the Titanic after it struck the iceberg.
This is because, despite the beginning of the movie actually promising to go into some emotionally mature for this kind of movie concepts of both sanity and lack thereof, and also just how best to cope with hopelessness when faced with the terrifying and/or unknown, this film’s plot quickly betrays that by proving to be as shallow as whoever Carly Simon was singing about in “You’re So Vain”. Yet somehow, and against more odds than a Phil Collins song, the aforementioned plot is somehow able to sustain and carry along an exhausted and telegraphed so far in advance you wonder why they even bother building suspense-style story that also manages to possess little to no character development and/or growth from about 95% of the cast that ultimately signed on to take part in this sinking vessel of a movie. I say 95% of this cast because, somehow, Kristen Stewart, finally showing here lately that she is able to leave the sparkling vampires as far behind as she possibly can, does manage to contribute a somewhat good performance that has more than one distinct vibe that this is a tribute to Sigourney Weaver’s turn as Ripley in the Alien movies. Yet despite Stewart giving it her all, she is ultimately let down by the film’s writers due to her character being written with such indifference that you ultimately find yourself unsatisfied and also wanting to see more of her character than the movie chooses to give us.
Yet one of the absolute biggest gripes that I have with this movie though has to be the fact that this film, due to being under a 95 minute runtime constraint, finds itself having to zip from one locale to the next, and while in some movies that wouldn’t be an issue that is not the case in this movie. This is because by doing so at the speed that it does it, this zipping around plain and simply manages to do nothing more than leaves a gaping hole in our understanding of what’s happening from each moment to the next. In addition since this is a film that never once really goes out of its way to showcase for the audiences the layout of the facility where this film is set, all this serves by the time the movie is done is that whenever a new location is introduced, it really comes across as a complete surprise to the audience thus making the goals that the characters undertaking becoming just as equally as vague. Not to mention, but the way that this film is edited and put together for our viewing displeasure here doesn’t make things easier in the slightest. This is because since the movie chooses to just jump around from one action sequence to the next with no regard to how this may affect the audience’s viewing experience, all this ultimately results in is that this film makes it virtually unlikely for us to even remotely begin to care about just how the stuff that happens in this movie, and the characters in this movie even tenuously begin to link up. Finally in a movie that has a bulk of its action set in the dark depths of the ocean, it completely baffles me on how these scenes are shot. I say this because not only are these scenes shot so messily, but with every single character we are following within this film also choosing to put on what looks like the exact same generic diving suit, we quickly find that we honestly can’t begin to figure out just who is who and just what exactly what is going on thus making for one truly baffling game of “Guess Who” you shouldn’t bother trying to play in the first place.
All in all there are good movies, there are so-bad-they’re good movies, and then there’s bad movies. This is none of those; rather Underwater is proof that sometimes there are just some shipwrecks lying at the bottom of the Hollywood ocean that shouldn’t be plundered. Not just because they’re perilous on the eyes, but because there sometimes is just simply nothing aboard worth bringing back to the surface. On a scale of 1-5 I give Underwater a 2 out of 5.