Review by Sean Boelman
Underwater, directed by William Eubank (The Signal), is a new sci-fi creature feature owing a lot to the greats of the genre. More often than not, the film feels derivative of other better movies that came before it, but despite being safe and by-the-book, it manages to be a surprisingly watchable popcorn flick.
The film follows the crew of an underwater rig as they are forced out into the open in search of safety after their lab is destroyed in an earthquake, only to discover that the tremor may have released a dangerous threat. The movie plays out like any other monster movie, but is particularly reminiscent of the classic Alien, to which direct homage is even given in one sequence.
However, the biggest issue with this film is that it doesn’t build its world well enough. Although companies and vessel names are name-dropped (one almost expects Weyland-Yutani to be mentioned, but it isn’t), the movie’s world feels painfully generic. In a film where suspension of disbelief is already required with giant sea monsters, why not give the viewer a greater sense of escapism by allowing them to feel immersed in the movie.
The film gets off to a quick start, with only one brief scene before the audience is thrown into the action. Even when there are no monsters involved, the movie manages to feel tense thanks to the overwhelming sense of claustrophobia that dominates the film and its production design. As a result, the movie is able to feel suspenseful despite its predictability.
That said, this comes at the expense of strong character development. Since there is no time to introduce the audience to the characters, their personalities must be built in a different way, and not all of them come through. Particularly frustrating is the fact that the hero, played by Kristen Stewart, is the most generic character in the bunch. Unfortunately, she comes across as little more than a Ripley wannabe.
Stewart is charismatic enough to lead the film, but after having made some excellent turns in some indie pictures, one can’t help but feel like she is above this. The supporting cast also features some notable faces, like Vincent Cassel, John Gallagher, Jr., and T.J. Miller, all of whom do a good enough job (though the latter’s participation is likely part of what caused the movie to sit on the shelf for a while).
Visually, the film is a bit uneven, but it is much better than typical for a January release. The kineticism of the cinematography can become a bit overwhelming at times, but there are some truly gorgeous shots to be found in the movie every once in a while. It just would have been nice if they were more consistent. The CGI is also pretty impressive, even though the creature design could have been more memorable.
As a January sci-fi action-horror flick, Underwater is particularly serviceable. At only an hour and a half long, the film is pretty diverting and even has a few moments that are somewhat exciting. Just don’t expect this to be anything more than a bit of mindless fun, and it will be a mostly pleasant experience.
Underwater opens in theaters on January 10.