“Underwater” is the latest creature feature that happens to take place, well… Underwater. I’ve always been a fan of this sub-genre, “The Abyss” being one of my favorite movies of all time, but I don’t know why we so seldomly get this type of sci-fi thrillers. In 1989 there was a weird conjunction of these types of movies, with James Cameron’s “The Abyss” leading the pack, “DeepStar Six” (from the director of “Friday the 13th”) and “Leviathan”, and then some lesser-known (and WAY lesser budgeted) flicks like “Lords of the Deep” and “The Evil Below”. After that, it seems I could count on one hand the number of underwater sci-fi horror movies that have come out in the last thirty years (at least theatrically)… All that comes to my mind are Deep Rising, Sphere, Deep Blue Sea and The Meg.
Given that lack of representation in this particular sub-genre, I got ecstatic when I first heard about “Underwater”, not just for being a monster movie that takes place on the bottom of the ocean, but because it came from William Eubank, the director of a little known sci-fi flick I highly enjoyed called “The Signal” (2014). So, I went in to see this movie really excited and with my expectations kind of high, and well… I came out hugely exhilarated and satisfied, the movie really did surpass all my expectations.
Right from the start, the movie did something I thought was really risky and ballsy… You know how in pretty much all of these kinds of monster movies and sci-fi thrillers, you always get a first act that consists mostly of introducing the characters and seeing them in their natural environment before the shit hits the fan? Well, not so much here; the movie starts with a quite literal bang, scratching off all of that introductory stuff and jumping right into the crisis and suspense of the situation. This is a very risky decision, given that it could cause the audience to not give a damn about the characters as they weren’t properly introduced before the mayhem even started… Well, that’s a risk that this movie, in my opinion, totally avoided, mainly because of how well made it is and the strong performances of the cast.
Much has been said about Kristen Stewart since she exploded into stardom thanks to the “Twilight” movies; for years I’ve read and heard people talking about how shitty of an actress she is and I’ve seen countless memes on the web mocking her supposedly limited acting range (recently I’ve seen this one a million times where there´s a picture of “The Mandalorian” protagonist in his full bounty hunter gear and it reads “Even he has more facial expressions than Kristen Stewart”), and well… To me, that has never been the case. Ever since I saw her on “Panic Room” I thought she was a pretty solid actress; I’ve seen her showing plenty of range in little movies like “Adventureland” and “In the Land of Women”, and I’ve read about other performances she gives in indie films I have yet to see that have been lauded by critics, so, I didn’t have any problem going in with her being the lead in this movie... Yeah, her style of acting might be somewhat understated, but I think I prefer that over over-actor’s any day. Overall I think she was awesome, there wasn’t one moment where I felt she was out of her “depth” (pun intended), being when she was expressing fear while crawling through a claustrophobically small passage, when she mourned the death of a fellow co-worker, or when she slips into badass mode near the end of the movie; she was absolutely convincing through all of it.
The supporting cast was really strong too, though I wish the script would have given some of them a little more meat to sink their teeth into. Vincent Cassel plays the captain of the facility with a sort of fatherly vibe towards his crew, with a strong and authoritative attitude but also really preoccupied with his co-worker’s well-being. John Gallager Jr and Jessica Henwick play two characters who haven’t found the time to properly express their feelings for each other and try their best to make it out alive out of this situation in order to do so. As you might expect, T.J. Miller is in hand to provide mostly comic relief; I found his character entertaining and most of his offhand comments ranged from amusing to really funny (the “sweet flat cheated fairy” line really got me); there was a couple of moments where he was on the verge of being annoying, but he never crossed the line.
One of the things I enjoyed the most about the movie was how selfless and altruistic all of the characters were… Usually, in these sort of flicks, you almost always get at least one person who tries to f$ck the others in order to save him or herself, and you always have these arguments and bickering between the characters about who should get first to safety in a crisis situation and whatnot… Well, not in this flick, here everyone is ALL THE TIME trying to save each other even at the expense of their own safety; I really don’t know how realistic this behavior truly is (I would like to think that it is possible for people to indeed act like this in emergency situations), but realistic or not I found it to be a really nice breath of fresh air.
One thing though… A lot of the movies that comprise this sub-genre are characterized by a high level of cheesiness, which can be fun indeed, but this is definitely not the case. This movie takes itself very seriously, and even though sometimes that can be a problem (especially in movies with plots that are way too outlandish), here I think it served the movie well because the tension throughout is totally palpable; there was nary a moment when the movie gives the audience time to breath and relax. As clichéd as it may sound, it really is a roller-coaster of a ride from start to finish. I really liked the fact that even way before any creature makes an appearance, the movie boasts some really great scenes of incredible suspense, which reminded me a lot of “The Descent” which also used its claustrophobic and dangerous environments to do the very same thing.
The movie looks really good throughout, with fantastic production design and lighting that really makes you feel like you´re inside of that crumbling facility. Like most underwater movies, there were some action sequences which had a couple of moments where it was really difficult to tell what the hell was going on and who was who, given the quick camera cuts and the darkness of the setting, but these instances were thankfully few and far between; 95% of the time I could clearly see and understand what was going on at any given moment.
If I had to critic something about the movie (and this is kind of a nitpick), is that it doesn’t feel all that original. I mean, we´ve seen this premise a lot of times before, and the movie doesn’t do anything to try and subvert the tropes of this particular genre, however, when the execution of a movie is as good as this one, I usually can excuse a lack of originality in the general premise of it (I felt this exact same way about movies like “The Conjuring” for example). Also, although most jump scares are really effective and well made, there was a part of the movie about halfway through that I felt had way too many boo moments too close together, which usually diminishes their effect.
Now, I’m going to enter into spoiler-ish territory so if you want to watch the movie knowing nothing about the creatures, I would advise you to stop reading now and come back after you’ve watched it. On the subject of the creatures of the movie, the main hook in this kind of flicks, I can say I was left feeling absolutely satisfied. It is always hard to strike a nice balance in these films between showing too little or too much of the creatures, but Eubank achieved that balance perfectly to me. For almost half the movie you only see quick glimpses and flashes of the creatures but in the third half they’re fully shown and they are really creepy and menacing looking. The small creatures looked like a mix between the monsters in “A Quiet Place”, “Cloverfield” and the Neomorph from “Alien: Covenant”. Now, the ending of the movie holds a very, VERY big surprise, in the form of the appearance of another monster of gargantuan proportions, a behemoth basically. Now, I’m not an expert on the mythology of the work of a certain famous horror author, but still, I could immediately recognize this creature and it was a really amazing and fun surprise to me because I honestly didn’t expect something like that to show up. I felt almost like when I was watching a Marvel movie and a superhero I didn’t expect to see in any given movie suddenly shows up.
Also, for several reasons parts of the movie reminded me of other creature features I really liked, I don’t know if it was on purpose or not but it did; for one, the inclusion of T.J. Miller and John Gallagher Jr. immediately made me think of the “Cloverfield” movies, given that the former was in the first one and the latter in the second one. Also, having the female protagonist running around at the very end only wearing her underwear immediately made me think of “Alien” where Sigourney Weaver’s character “Ripley” does the same thing.
So, to sum up, yeah, I absolutely loved the movie. I don’t think I’ve had as much fun watching a creature feature since “Cloverfield” probably. It’s really sad to know how bad the movie did on the Box Office though, and sometimes I really don’t get what drives people to see some movies over others. For example, “The Meg” was deemed a Box Office success, enough for it to apparently warrant a sequel, and even though I thought that movie was entertaining enough, I found it incredibly cheesy, with cardboard characters, clunky dialogue, almost no suspense and some questionable special effects (even though from what I could gather, the movie was way more expensive to make than “Underwater”, it looked WAY cheaper to me). But I digress… I really hope people give a second chance to “Underwater” when it comes to Blu Ray and streaming services, because it sure as hell deserves it.