The opening credits sets the stage for us: there’s a science facility housing over 300 people at the bottom of the ocean – specifically in the Mariana Trench, the deepest oceanic trench on Earth. An research outfit called Kepler 822 is busy drilling deep into the ocean floor, which anyone familiar with horror movies knows is a really bad idea. That’s like Lovecraft 101, people.
Of course, this drilling results in an earthquake felt by our lead Norah (Kristen Stewart) while she’s brushing her teeth and saving a spider. Moments later, the facility is coming apart at the seams and she’s forced to run for her live and meets up with Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie) and together they close off parts of the facility to save their own lives, but probably killing countless others in the rapid flooding and destruction.
The pair manage to figure out how to get to the escape pods and find other members of the crew along the way including Paul (T.J. Miller), Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel), Liam (John Gallagher Jr.), and Emily (Jessica Henwick). Unfortunately for everyone left alive, all the escape pods are either in use by other escapees or have been destroyed. But there might be more in other parts of the facility, and they quickly suit up and go exploring and find a distress signal coming from a launched escape pod.
They find the pod destroyed and some never-before-seen marine life feasting on the corpse of its previous inhabitant. Naturally, they kill the creature and bring it inside to study… but the things (possible) mother comes looking for it and our heroes find themselves on the run with two objectives: 1) find working escape pods in another section of the underwater facility, and 2) survive whatever nightmarish monster is stalking them.
Underwater is a fast paced, high-octane, increasingly claustrophobic thrill ride with impressive acting, intense visuals, and a simple story tying it all together. Most movies chose to introduce you to the cast of characters and their normal world before thrusting them into danger. Not this movie! There’s only a single scene (of Kristen Stewart brushing he teeth) before we’re immediately flung right into the chaos. From there it’s balls-to-the-wall action for nearly the entire 95-minute runtime. I loved it!
A while back, I read the original script by Brian Duffield (The Babysitter, Jane Got a Gun, and The Divergent Series: Insurgent). It was this large-scale epic with monsters running loose, huge shots along the vast ocean floor, and crazy action sequences. The final version of the film, however, is a far more contained version of the story thanks to rewrites by Adam Cozad (The Legend of Tarzan, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit). I’m honestly not sure which version I liked better between the original script and the final movie – both are great and intense and awesome. And with a budget of $80 million I’m not really sure why they felt the need to scale back – but it works really well.
The cinematography by Bojan Bazelli (6 Underground, A Cure for Wellness, Pete’s Dragon, and many others) and the direction of William Eubank (The Signal, Love) worked so well together – possibly because Eubank was once also a cinematographer himself. These two came together to create an impressive claustrophobic thrill ride that never gives the audience a chance to breath (much like the characters).
The acting is great as well. Kristen Stewart has come a long way in her craft since her Twilight Saga days. T.J. Miller probably felt like he was in another Cloverfield movie as his character here is similar and even the monsters looked a little like the Cloverfield monster (albeit much smaller). The only other cast member I recognized was Jessica Henwick from Netflix’s Marvel TV universe (Iron Fist and The Defenders). The others also performed well even though I didn’t get the geeky “Oh they were in X!” feeling you get from the previously named actors.
I feel like my only gripe was that I wasn’t a huge fan of the monster design. It looked like stuff that we’ve seen before (again, looked like a Cloverfield rehash). Other than that, Underwater is a fantastic and exciting adventure that, for reasons unknown, had a small turnout in theaters. We can’t really blame Covid-19 pandemic as it came out in January – months before the lockdowns started. Perhaps it was Disney’s reluctance to promote the last film with the fabled “20th Century Fox” in the credits. Regardless, it’s a must-see ofr any sci-fi / horror fan out there and shouldn’t be missed!