“There’s a comfort in cynicism. There’s a lot less to lose”
Ever since accidentally watching the opening scene of Jaws when I was far, far too young I have always felt uneasy about the ocean and what lies within it. Films like Deep Blue Sea, Open Water, and The Shallows definitely shouldn’t be my bag, but the truth is I’m a sucker for them – and I can’t even explain why. Admittedly, Underwater‘s trailer had me at Kristen Stewart, but the fact it also didn’t show all that much really piqued my interest.
When Tian Industries’ deep-sea research and drilling facility is devastatingly damaged by a mysterious earthquake, a handful of the remaining scientific crew must try and find a way to reach the surface – but with the facility now crumbling under the pressure of the ocean, oxygen levels running low, and a new unidentified threat in their way, time is not on their side.
With just a 95-minute runtime, the film dives right into the story as the ‘earthquake’ strikes the facility within the first few minutes of the film, giving us no time to get properly introduced with Kristen Stewart’s Norah Price, a mechanical engineer for Tian Industries. It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that Kristen Stewart delivers a strong lead performance and completely has you in the palm of her hand when she’s on screen.
Mamoudou Athie, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr and T.J. Miller are the only other apparent survivors of the incident, and whilst it’s sort of hinted in passing conversations they all vaguely know each other in some way, the film doesn’t slow down the pace to let them have a sit-down and a little catch-up. And here-in lies one of my only gripes with the film as a whole – the characters. Because everything is happening so fast, we are given no time to get to know much about these characters and there’s no connection built up between us and them – meaning when things inevitably get ramped up, I found myself not really caring what happened to them. But maybe that’s me expecting too much for a film like this with a tight runtime?
Naaman Marshall’s production design is something to be truly admired. With most of the film taking place within confined, claustrophobic spaces, Marshall still manages to bring such authenticity and style to the interior of the research facility. Bojan Bazelli’s cinematography really compliments Marshal’s work, managing to deliver some gorgeous shots throughout the film by making use of the limited amount of lighting available. All this is accompanied by Marco Beltrami & Brandon Roberts’ score which drenches the film with an extra layer of unease and anxiety-inducing dread.
One aspect of the film I think will stand out to most is the diving suits the team use to walk across the ocean floor. The bulky design is obviously a must to withstand the pressure so far down, but the detail and aesthetic of the suits is really something. The first thing I thought when we saw the team climbing into them is that they wouldn’t look out of place in a live-action Gears of War film, and then all I could think about was Stewart in a ‘Gears’ film and, well, I need it.
Now one thing I have yet to mention is what actually lies beneath the ocean, and for good reason. I think going into this film not really knowing what to expect to see will benefit your viewing experience. You can see a large set of teeth in the film’s poster, so you know you’re diving into a creature feature, but the reveal is incredibly well done and the concept and designs are utterly terrifying so I won’t go into any more detail than that – but just you wait.
Having spoken with a few people about Underwater since watching it, it would appear I’m in the minority when I say that everything about it just worked for me, other than the fact I would have liked a bit of breathing room at the start to be introduced to these characters properly. This would have led the audience to form some sort of connection with them, but at the same time, the film’s tight 95-minute runtime means feels just right.
It’s easy to try and put this film down and just call it Alien in the ocean, but really, what’s wrong with that? I was totally engrossed in the film the whole way through thanks to Stewart’s emphatic performance, the cinematography compliments the impressive set and production design, the creatures are absolutely hideous (in the best way possible), and it’s been a while since I had to remind myself to breathe whilst watching a film. Turn of the lights, put your feet up and dive in.
Directed by: William Eubank
Written by: Brian Duffield, Adam Cozad
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Mamoudou Athie, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr., T.J. Miller