UnderwaterReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 01/10/20 17:35:23
“Underwater” is a film that was produced about three years ago, has been on and off the release schedule for a while and is now being dumped into theaters in the dead of January in the hopes of making a few quick bucks while most observers are focused on the unfolding award season. As a result, one might naturally expect the film to be a disaster along the lines of most things that come out around this time. As it turns out, “Underwater” is not nearly as bad as one might expect but it is certainly nothing special either—it is just another knockoff of “Alien” (with a huge helping of “The Abyss” added to the mix) that has been made with just enough flair to keep it from being complete trash but not enough to allow it to work on its own.The film is set in an underwater research facility located several miles beneath the water’s surface and the film has hardly begun when the facility is struck by a massive tremor that destroys most of the place, leaving only a few survivors—including mechanic Norah (Kristen Stewart), the captain (Vincent Cassel), an engineer (Mamoudou Athie), a pair of scientists-in-love (John Gallagher Jr. and Jessica Henwick) and a comic relief smarts (TJ Miller, which should indicate just how long this has been sitting on the shelf)—with little air and fewer viable options. With no other options available, a plan is devised—they will don the deep-sea diving suits that they manage to scrounge up and will walk across the ocean floor to a nearby abandoned underwater drilling station in the hopes of finding escape pods that will take them to the surface. Needless to say, this plan is perilous enough on the surface (no pun intended) but becomes even more so when it becomes evident that there are bizarre sea monsters out there ready to pick them off one by one in ways as gruesome as can be without seriously threatening the PG-13 rating.
All of this has been put together with a certain degree of competence, I suppose, but with precious little inspiration to go along with it. It looks pretty good, far better than it probably needed to, with a preference for practical effects over CGI and a nicely conceived production design but all of that is undone by a screenplay by Brian Duffeld and Adam Cozad that offers up one hackneyed cliche after another (once you see the characters, you will be almost certain to predict which one of them will die first), would-be scares that arrive precisely on schedule but without any fright or surprise, canned dialogue and characters who are each given precisely one behavioral trait to play with throughout. Director William Eubank keeps things moving along quickly enough but never generates any real sense of suspense or memorable visuals—there are a couple of big action set pieces that are so messily handled that it is almost impossible to determine what is happening and who it is all happening too.
Indeed, the only real mystery about “Underwater” is the one revolving around the question of why an actress as gifted and talented as Kristen Stewart would, at this point in her career, deign to appear in it in the first place. To be sure, she is by far the best thing about the entire enterprise—her undeniable screen charisma and presence is in full effect even when she is mostly hidden away inside of a clunky diving suit (and leave it to her to honor the most controversial film in the “Alien” franchise, “Alien 3” with a buzzcut that explicitly evokes Sigourney Weaver’s Falconetti look )—but aside from the lure of a presumably higher paycheck than she might expect from an Olivier Assayas joint, there is nothing to this part that either takes advantage of her considerable talents or allows her to stretch performance muscles that she rarely gets a chance to deploy. Hell, “Charlie’s Angels” was a much worse film than this but you could at least understand why playing a goofy, take-charge ass-kicker might have appealed to her on some level. This, on the other hand, is the kind of movie that an actress of her stature should have left behind long ago. I’m not saying that she should never do paycheck gigs in big-budget productions somewhat lower on the artistic scale than the likes of “Personal Shopper.” I am saying that of all the projects along those lines that she has presumably been offered in recent years, there had to have been one that offered her a little more to do for the money than this one.Look, “Underwater” is not a very good movie but it is not entirely terrible either—it isn’t even the worst movie opening wide this weekend. (That booby prize goes to the truly awful and execrable “Like a Boss.”) Hell, if you go in with seriously lowered expectations and have a tolerance for shameless “Alien” ripoffs. you could probably think of worse ways to divest yourself of $12 and several brain cells. You could probably also think of better ways to make use of both and you would be advised to make that choice here. The original ads for “Alien” promised that “In space, no one can hear you scream.” No one will hear you scream during “Underwater” either—albeit for entirely different reasons—but be prepared because once it ends, the sound of the audience’s collective “Meh” will be downright deafening.
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