Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: William Eubank
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick, Mamoudou Athie, John Gallagher jr, T J Miller.
Once more into the abyss with this claustrophobic, waterlogged variation on the classic sci-fi horror film Alien. Rather than taking place in deep space though this film is set deep under the ocean. 10kms below the ocean in fact, in the Mariana Trench, the deepest trench in the world.
A montage of newspaper clippings that play out during the opening credits tells us that there have been mysterious sightings and disturbances plaguing the deep sea mining operations run by the Tian Corporation.
The Kepler 822, a nuclear-powered high-tech mining operation, is located on the floor of the trench. It is a claustrophobic setting, and the thirty-day mission takes its psychological and emotional toll on the specialist crew working in the station. But then an underground earthquake rocks the place, and water explodes through the damaged concrete structures.
Some quick thinking from electrical engineer Norah Price (Kristen Stewart, best known for the YA Twilight series) manages to save herself and a handful of the crew. But Norah, mission captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel), marine biology student Emily (Jessica Henwick, from Game Of Thrones, etc), systems manager Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie, from Sorry For Your Loss, etc), operations expert Smith (John Gallagher jr) and the wise cracking rigger Paul (T J Miller, from Silicon Valley, etc) find themselves trapped inside the Kepler with all communications to the surface cut off. Their escape submarine has also been destroyed in the earthquake. Their only real option seems to be to walk across the ocean floor and reach the Roebuck 641, an abandoned rig located about a mile away. But there is danger lurking in the ocean in the form of a predatory subterranean creature that has been awakened by the quake. Who will survive the perilous journey?
Underwater has been written by Brian Duffield (Insurgent, etc) and Adam Cozad (The Legend Of Tarzan, etc), and it wears its Alien influence quite openly. There is a subtext here about nature fighting back against human greed and technology that is ruining the world. The scripting is a little predictable at times, and the film follows many of the tropes of that 1979 sci-fi horror classic.
The director is William Eubank, a former cinematographer who previously gave us the little seen 2014 sci-fi mystery The Signal. But unlike Ridley Scott who kept his alien creature largely hidden from view, he shows his hand early on which reduces the suspense considerably. He does suffuse the material with a strong sense of claustrophobia though. There is some great underwater cinematography from Bojan Bazelli. And Naaman Marshall’s production design is also good, giving the interiors an ominous and oppressively impersonal look. The score from Marco Beltami is evocative and underscores the tension, while the sound design from Wayne Lemmer and Jack Whittaker is effective in ramping up the tension. However, the special effects that create the generic monster are a little less impressive.
Eubank draws effective performances from his small multicultural cast. Making a rare foray into big budget mainstream fare, indie favourite Stewart is especially good as the heroic Norah, this film’s equivalent of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, and she has a strong presence with her usual nervous energy an essential part of her character. And she makes for a strong female protagonist and acquits herself well in a more physical role. And did we mention that she spends a lot of the film in her underwear?
Cassel brings some gravitas to his role as the leader of the crew, while Miller provides the comic relief. But most of the rest of the crew are slightly underdeveloped and cliched, and Eubank wastes the talents of his solid cast. Because they are all wearing bulky diving suits it is hard to tell who is who. Ultimately, we don’t really care about their fate.
We’ve had plenty of other films dealing with horrifying creatures beneath the ocean; Underwater is not great, nor is it particularly bad – but basically it remains a bland, unoriginal, derivative and forgettable B-grade Alien rip off. The film was shot three years ago and has sat on a shelf since, a victim of the Disney take-over of Fox studios, and it almost sank without a trace.
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