Current Issue #488

Film Review:

Part-psychothriller, part-disaster-movie and (of course) part-monster-movie, director William Eubank’s enjoyable epic offers plenty of déjà vu, a strong performance from Kristen Stewart and a spoiler-ific final act that’ll have horror fans hooting.

A much-delayed production originally shot some three years ago (and therefore before Stewart became involved with Charlie’s Angels, Seberg and perhaps other pics), this nevertheless delivers much tension despite its heavily derivative edges, and makes up for most of its drippier flaws with a genuinely grand finale.

Seven miles or so beneath the Mariana Trench we meet Stewart’s Norah Price, a jaded engineer who barely has time for a little expository narration about living underwater before a catastrophic earthquake hits and she must escape her section of Titan Industries’ Kepler 822 drilling station. Struggling through wreckage in scenes that recall Neil Marshall’s The Descent, she eventually winds up in the company of a group of comfortingly familiar survivors, including: grim Captain Lucien (French star Vincent Cassel); panicky biologist Emily Haversham (Jessica Henwick); nice nerd Liam Smith (John Gallagher Jr.); snarky grunt Paul Abel (snarky T.J. Miller); and the unfortunately one-dimensional Rodrigo Nagenda (Mamoudou Athie).

Unable to contact the surface, Lucien decides that the only thing to do is don pressurised suits and make their perilous way to other undersea stations, which leads to several striking sequences where the group walk across the ocean floor and, you guessed it, are stalked by creepy creatures which have a winning fondness for leaping from the darkness, leering a little and whisking off with various characters. This is considerably more entertainingly scary than it really should be, and a certain ruthlessness to Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad’s script means we can’t quite be sure who’s going to cop it next, or how unpleasantly.

As we near the final act, however, director Eubank’s film strays into several different subgenres altogether, and although you can probably guess what’s going to happen (what’s that movie from 2008 starting with C again?), it’s still seriously fishy fun.

But what about Stewart, whose evocation of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley at the climax of the first Alien intentionally invites some weighty comparisons? She’s certainly better here than she should be, and her usual screen persona works well as her Norah realises the doomy enormity of her soggy situation – a much better fit than the comedic lean of Charlie’s Angels. And yes, we have seen this sort of thing before, especially in classics like James Cameron’s The Abyss and the multitude of stinkers that quickly ripped that one off (Leviathan, Deep Star Six, The Rift), but we’ve never been able to experience it on such a monstrously cool scale.

Reviewer Rating

Underwater (M) is in cinemas now

DM Bradley

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