VOD film review: Underwater
James R | On 29, Oct 2020
Director: William Eubank
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassell, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr
Underwater has one of the most thrilling opening sequences of any movie in the past year – the fact that it was actually made three years ago perhaps gives you a clue about the rest of it.
The film begins with pure pandemonium, as a drilling and research base in the Mariana Trench is struck by an earthquake. The whole place begins to full apart, with water spurting in from every crack and crevice and the walls and doors threatening to cave in. Running through it is Norah (Kristen Stewart), an engineer who manages to reach the escape pod boy with two drill workers, Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie) and Paul (TJ Miller). Soon, their trio expands to become a motley crew of survivors, including the captain (Vincent Cassell), bio-researcher Emily (Jessica Henwick) and Emily’s engineer boyfriend, Liam (John Gallagher Jr).
Their attempts to find a way to reach the surface, either in person or by communicating remotely, lead them venture out into the watery depths – and, needless to say, that turns out to be a very bad idea. Things get increasingly pressurised in all kinds of ways, not least in the pressure the film faces from audience expectations, as it ventures into Alien-esque territory. To say that the film doesn’t live up to Ridley Scott’s flawless chamber horror is perhaps no surprise, but there’s an enjoyable creature feature vibe to the affair, as the scale grows to Lovecraftian spectacle – and then some.
Throughout, Kristen Stewart is excellent as the steely, resilient Norah, although the rest of the cast don’t get a chance to worry about things such as characterisation or nuance; this is a deep dive into B-movie territory that isn’t afraid of embracing apocalyptic dread while never skimping on pace. That riveting burst of speed is there right from the off, capturing the claustrophobic horror life beneath the surface. It’s just a shame, then, that Underwater starts so strongly that the rest of the film never quite lives up to it, as familiar conventions float to the surface.