Underwater (2020) is a nautical thriller, anchored by Kristen Stewart’s solid performance. Though the movie visits numerous corners that genre fans know by now, Underwater (2020) is nonetheless a thrilling experience.
For cinemagoers, January usually means a rather dry season. With eyes gazing at the final moments of the awards season, there’s little going on for films premiering in the year’s opening months. Any derogation, which brings a worthwhile movie, is therefore a pleasant surprise. William Eubank’s Underwater (2020) happens to be one.
While it’s not specified in the film’s opening, it’s rather clear that Underwater (2020) takes place in some near future. A unique drilling technology allows people to explore the Mariana Trench, the world’s deepest and by far creepiest abyss in the ocean’s depths.
Eubank opens with Norah, the film’s protagonist played by Kristen Stewart. Short-haired and, military-style but with fearful eyes, Stewart begins with a stream of consciousness which we hear from voice over. This beginning had me worried, as it’s on the verge of spoiling all the fun. Thankfully, it takes just that one scene for the screenwriters Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad to deliver a serious jolt. An alarm goes off and the wing of a gargantuan drilling platform explodes under the irresistible pressure of water. Stewart dashes through the leaking corridors, trying to wake the rest of the crew, but within minutes, all she’s left with are a bunch of fellow co-workers – played by T.J. Miller, Jessica Henwick, Mamoudou Athie, John Gallagher Jr. – and her Captain (Vincent Cassel).
The group soon learns that they’re not alone, and with the platform falling into pieces, they’re forced to walk on the ocean’s bottom, in the company of some vicious deep-sea creatures, in order to reach a second platform and survive.
I’ll say that right away – Underwater (2020) often feels as if the Alien saga suddenly swapped spaceships and cosmos with deepwater darkness. Even the monsters – that is swift predators with an incredible strength – carry more than a drop of resemblance to Xenomorphs. There are also other titles to be recalled here – from nautical-themed films such as Black Sea (2014) and Deep Rising (1998) to modern monster movies such as Pacific Rim (2013).
Despite the obviousness of its inspirations, Eubank & the crew have their own ways of bringing horror to life, and writers Cozad and Duffield mitigate risk of a muddled, half-baked drama. The two latter gentlemen channel all their efforts into keeping the tension upward-sloping. And Eubank knows the right buttons to push. The enemies of the surviving team aren’t just the creatures out there, but also the killing pressure at more than 10 km of depth, as well as the characters’ own mental and body limitations.
All these fears and dangers serve Eubank’s cause well. Thanks to Bojan Bazelli’s grim cinematography, Eubank makes the abyss look mystical, with monsters lurking from the unknown dark. Thanks to the technical measures, such as a limited visibility underwater and hectic remains of the station, the audience stays in the same perspective as the characters. We know as little as they do, and it’s the same methodology that worked so well in Chernobyl (2019) too. Until Underwater (2020) reaches its finale, we only collect breadcrumbs that reveal minute parts of the platform’s real source of malfunction.
Although William Eubank avoids going too deep into modern environmental issues, Underwater (2020) has moments of didactical storytelling too. The remaining employees curse the whole idea of reaching the Earth’s core on numerous occasions, meanwhile details – such as an audio recording of the drilling company’s uplifting values – constitute rather sarcastic warnings against the total exploitation of our planet.
More than a cautionary tale, Underwater (2020) focuses on the sole idea of survival. That responsibility is transferred onto Kristen Stewart, an emotional anchor of the film. The American actress sells the character’s conflict by exposing barely visible cracks in her character’s composure. Norah isn’t close to Sigourney Weaver’s absolute badass archetype from Alien, but instead Stewart finds something fragile and more human in Norah. Stewart is Underwater’s (2020) most notable part, and a definite high among the cast. Other than her, TJ Miller’s jokester character landed a few good lines, Cassel’s father figure role had some impact, however the rest of the crew remained completely bleak.
The film’s B-movie finale can raise an eyebrow, as it did for me at first. But even that didn’t spoil the fun, mostly thanks to Kristen Stewart and how she embraces the corniness of it. As a huge fan of monster movies myself, I view Underwater (2020) in the category of pleasurable blockbusters. Eubank wanted to make an old-school survival thriller, and he succeeded. And all of a sudden, the dead season’s drought felt much less painful.
Underwater (2020) – Culturally Hated or Liked?
William Eubank crafts a timely piece of thriller, and despite some obvious inspirations and limited storytelling depth, Underwater (2020) delivers exactly what it initially promises.
Hate Grade: 3/10
Director: William Eubank
Writers: Brian Duffield (story by) and Adam Cozad
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, T.J. Miller, Jessica Henwick, Mamoudou Athie, John Gallagher Jr.
Cinematography: Bojan Bazelli
Music: Marco Beltrami & Brandon Roberts