• GelNerd

Review: 'Underwater' (2020) Dir. William Eubank

Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Mamoudou Athie, T.J. Miller, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr. and Gunner Wright


Another victim of the COVID-19 pandemic which closed many cinema chains worldwide, 'Capone' went straight to VOD release in May 2020...

At the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, a research and drilling rig is struck by an earthquake and causes irreparable damage, forcing the crew to evacuate.

A handful of survivors, led by Captain Lucien (Cassel) and engineer Norah Price (Stewart), miss the evacuation pods and are forced to walk 1 mile across the ocean floor to a safer rig for evacuation.

But the team are not alone; strange creatures are identified and start to pick them off, forcing them into a battle for survival against the elements and the underwater monsters before it is too late...

Within the first 10 minutes, you'll be hard pressed to find anything original in this semi-disaster/horror film. While not a bad thing (what is original today anyway?), there are clear moods of 'Alien' from the use of isolated sound, or lack of it, to create eerie ambiance, the flickering lights in an empty white corridor, or everyday corporate workers thrown into something nightmarish when their operation goes wrong.

At a brisk 90mins, 'Underwater' doesn't waste much time in establishing a large drilling station deep beneath the waves that starts to fall apart. Earthquake? Human error? Something more? All we know is that a rag-tag team of workers, led by peroxide-haired, rim-glasses wearing Kristen Stewart and the captain Vincent Cassell, band together in a control hub full of computers and wires and displays and shaking walls to plan their survival. Again, this has it all from the muted dull colours, eerie soundtrack and handful of assorted folks who you know won't make it to the end.

'Underwater' borrows from all the classic sci-fi / horror / outpost / creature survival films you've seen before.

It isn't long before our rag-tag team (the geeky one, the scared one, the cocky one, the hopeful one, the brave one etc) are suited up in what looks like the latest armour from an X-Box shooter and ready to traverse the ocean floor to escape their crumbling rig and make it to safety - and all that stands between them is the depth and darkness of said underwater. And it isn't long before things start to go wrong.

Director William Eubank, in only his third feature film outing, brings together all the elements from the staple genre films we know well and adds his own take on them in a new surrounding and a new environment. The underwater confines of the collapsing rig are nothing but claustrophobic and ghostly, dimly lit and surrounded by the booming sounds of pressure in the water around them and cracking metal. It's nothing but atmospheric. It's not long before an unknown creature comes into the mix, and one by one the bodies start to meet gruesome fates as the "unknown" fights back as our humans try to reach the surface.

With the premise of a dozen sci-fi horror films that have come before, 'Underwater' sadly fails to inject anything new or horrific into things. While the production design is mostly practical with well designed sets (in and out of water) and costumes, too much time is spent talking and worrying, battling to close and open doors and tubes, and not much time spent making real progression. That's the risk with underwater films - they're already slow and restricted and devoid of pace, so to try and set something that maintains jump-scares and atmospheric dread is already tricky, and sadly this doesn't do as well as if it were set on dry land or inside the rig. But then, if it did, it would be more than evident an 'Alien' pastiche.

When not underwater and on the drill, the film looks good. Slow and steady camera work, long establishing shots and crisp lighting used to reflect everything from isolation, danger and hope. And as this is Stewart's film to lead, she is watchable and does a good job at being a capable "Ripley", but lacking real exploration of her character and position in the process bar just being a survivor.

It's a sci-fi horror that is light on horror and ticks all the boxes for a disaster survival - eerie music, impressive CGI effects, a strong female lead, distorted lighting and camera work, 2D disposable characters and strange, limb-bending creatures.

'Underwater' sets out to do the genre justice in a dark, serious way - it's just a shame it never really gets going to grab you to maintain interest.

'Underwater' is a co-production between TSG Entertainment and Chernin Entertainment

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