Underwater

Directed By William Eubank

Starring – Kristen Stewart, T.J Miller, Jessica Henwick

The Plot – A crew of aquatic researchers work to get to safety after an earthquake devastates their subterranean laboratory. But the crew has more than the ocean seabed to fear.

Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and terror, and brief strong adult language

POSITIVES

– Riveting direction. Eubank establishes himself with great presence at over 40,000 leagues below the scene, and instills with it a fine combination of elevating anxiety and urgency to infect his audience towards a good time. Without this attention to detail in the ideals of sequence storytelling, “Underwater” would sink under the weight of its own derivative plot, but William’s sturdy pacing and constant emphasis towards this race against an invisible clock for the characters, allows it to tread indulging waters, making this a Summer popcorn flick that gave us the pleasure of arriving four months early, and never relenting on the unforeseen dangers that will inevitably pop-up in one way or another.

– Fast start. I love a suspense movie that wastes zero time in establishing the environment and central conflict, and this one is the blueprint for such an edge-of-the-seat notion. Not only are we introduced to the film’s central protagonist in the very first frame of the movie, but chaos erupts shortly thereafter, and conveys to the audience the kind of unstable timing that much of this film becomes saddled with. In addition to this pulse-setting start, the film maintains consistency with each following reveal, which in turn allows very few moments of relaxed down time for us or the characters who are enveloped in such an isolated environment. Most of all, it’s a film that makes the most of its brief 90 minute run time, supplanting no shortage of pivotal scenes to the progression and procedural of this team finding solace.

– Stock in rules. Aside from these savage creatures that stock and strike at this team with nothing short of barbaric brutality, the exposition of the sea bed setting itself is elaborated at with such in-depth explanation that you really find yourself getting an immersive feeling for the unorthodox environment. Is it perfect in logic? Absolutely not, but the examples given with pressure playing a suffocating influence on glass, as well as a human body cavity, give the screenwriters a hand of respect from this critic, if only for upping the stakes of adversity for what this crew constantly face with no remorse. In a sense, this film would be fine even without the monsters stalking their prey, but we are happy to indulge in a series of interesting creature designs and species-building that unfortunately went out the window during the creature feature rebirth of the 80’s and 90’s.

– Shot composition variety. It should come as no surprise that a movie that takes place in such an isolated territory is granted a claustrophobic presentation in depicting the ship that these people are surrounded by for months at a time, but what is surprisingly intriguing is the experimentation associated with many alluring camera angles that add to the intensity of the unfolding drama. There are many to dissect, but easily my favorite is the side helmet came inside of the helmet, that grants us the chance to endure some facial registry depth from this mostly exceptional lead cast. It also immerses us in experiencing what she is during several surreal interactions with this strange breed of sea creatures that are always trying to crush or eat her whole. The tension in the atmosphere is suffocating, and thanks to a collection of tight-knit photography, it never grants us the luxury of escaping this unshakably persistent plunge into the deep abyss.

– One above all. First of all, it’s a great decision to only have six actors throughout the entirety of this movie. It adds emphasis to the isolation that renders their situation helpless, but beyond that it forces us to see the strength in these people that we otherwise wouldn’t. On the side of performances, everyone minus Miller’s annoyingly forced comedy is a treat, but it’s easily Stewart who steals the show. After the horror that was her role in “Charlie’s Angels”, Kristen redeems herself with a terrified delivery that doesn’t require screams to sell her stroke with terror. Stewart’s composure in the first half is made all the more unnerving when you see how much her attitude evolves by the film’s final conflict, and it’s all only eclipsed by the magnitude of physicality she is asked to invest. It conveys the notion that Stewart can in fact be the female action heroine that legends like Linda Hamilton and Sigourney Weaver blazed a trail through, and easily outlines her best work since 2016’s “Personal Shopper”.

– Rattling and rumbling. The sound design in the film outlasts the exceptional musical score by Marco Beltrami, mainly because it’s a constant presence that plagues the crew, even when the monsters don’t. If you see this one, make it a theater with entrancing sound, because the rhythmic trance of the ship shaking, as well as the volume manipulation used with alarms within their suits, intensifies the danger, all the while illustrating a meticulous experience that haunts us to our very core. The somber sting of the ocean floor is imagined with a strikingly surreal side of tranquility that keeps us antsy for what’s swimming in the darkness, and only alludes to how far away from safety any of them truly are.

NEGATIVES

– Shortcutting. This is a strange instance, as two key decisions in the production limit the appeal of the picture, and drop it nearly two whole points for the immensity of its influence on what it accompanies. The first is the total lack of characterization in the film, that not only keeps us from ever learning anything about these people, but also limits our investment into their well-being. Secondly, the intrusive editing scheme frequently annoyed me, and whether intentional or not, made some sequences feel like they ran out of the minimal budget they were given, that they spent on some quality special effects. When this intrusion happens, the screen fades to black. This happens four different times in the movie, three of which within the same scene, and all of which cut out at the moment when the scene requires clarity the most.

– Handheld exposition. There’s nothing natural about the deposits of information needed to further the storytelling. In fact, the constant cause and effect nature of the film’s narrative often feels one step behind at all times, opting to fill the audience in after everything meaningful has happened. This leads to a lot of long-winded blank fillings once the audience requires resolution. It stands as the lone weakness in the film’s otherwise perfect pacing, and resorts to unnatural methods of supplanting to satisfy curiosity. The answers are given, and most of them are synthetic, but if a scene has to stop for two minutes each time something happens, instead of inserting it cohesively within the context of the scene, I almost wish it would just leave some things unsaid.

– Tonal inconsistencies. I blame this solely on TJ Miller’s character, who the movie wants so badly to stuff down our throats so much so that it often soils the sanctity of the thriller classification the movie endlessly earns. This not only took me out of the tense circumstance that the movie’s production conjures up in no shortage of positives mentioned above, but also fails repeatedly at Miller’s intention of giving some humor to the film. The humorous lines fall flat, the character lacks the same urgency that the other characters are practically bursting at the seams with, and it overall just stinks of 90’s horror directors who loved depositing a Chris Kattan or Matthew Lillard to substitute personality for characterization.

– Jump scares. That’s right, it’s back again, this time in the form of spiking volume that artificially enhances what each scene doesn’t require to sell its terror. Not all of the jump scares are unwarranted, just a majority, and it proves that Eubank second guesses the intoxicating atmosphere that crafted some truly terrifying situations for these people. It’s a constant reminder that this is a horror movie above all else, and reaches for the low-hanging fruit of its classless predecessors, that this film had no business vying for. Not nearly as many as those B-grade slasher and possession films, but equally as disappointing because this film established itself as better in the opening half hour.

My Grade: 6/10 or C

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