The Tian corporation is making another attempt at putting an ultra-deep-sea oil drilling rig at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, seven miles underwater. Previous efforts have failed for mysterious reasons. The base where the crew is housed is called Kepler and the drilling rig is called Roebuck. One morning when mechanical engineer Norah Price (Kristen Stewart) is brushing her teeth, Kepler suffers massive structural failures, causing flooding and implosions. Price and Rodrigo Nagenda (Mamoudou Athie) go looking for emergency escape pods, but their way is blocked by more damage. As they try to find an escape from the ocean floor, they find fellow crewman Paul Abel (T.J. Miller) buried under rubble but unhurt. The pair digs him out and continue their search for safety. They find Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel) unhurt and unsuccessfully trying to contact the surface. The four then head to the control room where they find biologist Emily Haversham (Jessica Henwick) and engineer Liam Smith (John Gallagher, Jr.) also unsuccessfully trying to contact the surface. None of them knows why Kepler is coming apart at the seams, but the leading theory is earthquakes. Captain Lucien suggests a plan where they don high-tech pressurized suits and walk the mile to Roebuck where they might be able to contact someone or access more escape pods. There chances of success are slim and even lower since the cause of all their problems is a mysterious creature lurking in the depths that is unhappy about the intrusion of humanity in its home.
January usually is a dumping ground for movies, especially the first couple of weeks. You get Oscar contenders that had limited releases in December, but the majority of new movies are the cast offs, the unwanted, the redheaded bastards at the family reunion. In other words, January is often the landfill where garbage movies go to die. That brings us to “Underwater.” Shot back in 2017, “Underwater” was made by 20th Century Fox prior to its purchase by Disney. What struggles the film and film makers had due to the change of ownership and the reason for the release delay are unknown, but it shouldn’t have taken over two years for the film to arrive in theaters. Maybe it got lost in the transition or maybe Fox and Disney execs saw the movie and decided to bury it. Whatever the reason, “Underwater” is a good example of a January film.
It isn’t that “Underwater” looks cheap. The sets and pressurized suits look like they could exist. While the characters sometimes use the technology in ways that don’t make sense or seem impossible, nothing in the film looks like it’s such a leap that it would be 100 years before it would be available.
The movie has a claustrophobic design to many of the sets. There are some larger room and long hallways, but most of the film takes place in narrow access shafts, small elevators, collapsed structures and inside the suits. If you feel tense while being in a confined space, you might want to skip “Underwater.”
My issues with the film are based more on the actions of the characters, including the monster, and how much of it doesn’t make sense. There are some very stereotypical horror film behaviors on display. For instance, late in the film, Norah is awestruck as she sees the monster, missing an opportunity to run away. There are a couple of characters that sacrifice themselves in ways that are supposed to be brave and unselfish but feel more like a screenwriter trying to force the audience to feel something for generic tropes. The monster misses some opportunities to take out most of the cast when they become separated. It seems omnipresent for patches of the film then disappears if the script needs it to. Even the design of the drilling facility doesn’t make much sense. If you need to get from Kepler to Roebuck, how do you do that? It isn’t clear if a transport train we see the survivors riding is how teams get to Roebuck or another part of the facility. Do they take subs? Are they sent there directly from the surface? If so, what is Kepler for? This is another example of me thinking too much about meaningless details, but if you put that much information in a movie it should make sense. There are other examples of little details that confused me but those would be spoilers. Much of “Underwater” doesn’t seem to care of it makes sense.
“Underwater” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and terror, and brief strong language. There are a couple of bloody deaths, including one where a body implodes. We see a couple of dead bodies amongst the wreckage of the destroyed station. Foul language is scattered.
Perhaps the best thing about “Underwater” is the monster. We don’t get a good look at the creature until near the end of the film and even then, it is somewhat hidden by the murkiness of the water. It resembles bits and pieces of other movie monsters including ones from “Cloverfield” and “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.” I wish as much effort had been put into the story and the characters as the monster, then maybe “Underwater” would have been worth the trip to the theater. Sadly, generic characters behaving in nonsensical ways in a predictable story with a decent monster is what we are given. If you are forced to see this film, be ready to hold your breath.
“Underwater” gets two stars out of five.
Two new movies open this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
Bad Boys for Life—
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