Friday, January 24, 2020

Movie Review: Underwater

Underwater *** / *****
Directed by: William Eubank.
Written by: Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad.
Starring: Kristen Stewart (Norah), Jessica Henwick (Emily), T.J. Miller (Paul), Vincent Cassel (Captain), John Gallagher Jr. (Smith), Mamoudou Athie (Rodrigo).
 
Underwater is your classic January movie. Shot three years ago, the studio probably spent too much money on what appears to be a cheap creature feature from 2001, but simply writing off the entire investment by dumping it to VOD wasn’t an option, so they pick a January release date in the hopes that the film can make a quick buck, and that few will notice that the movie has T.J. Miller in it – since the film was shot before became as toxic as he now is. Underwater really does play like the movie you added to your pile of New Releases from Blockbuster 15 years ago to reach the number of rentals that got you the deal – and then you threw on at midnight after you watched the movie you really wanted to see. But it’s kind of the best version of that movie – a tight 95 minutes that jolts you with cheap, but effective, jump scares, has an appealing cast and keeps you watching until the end, even if you know you should just turn it off and go to bed instead. The film, and its cast, knows precisely what it is – and embraces it.
 
The film is yet another take-off of Alien – where a group of people on a massive, industrial space have to fight for their survival – from the elements, and from some strange creature. It isn’t in space this time, but deep underwater where this team on this massive rig are drilling into the ocean floor for some reason (is it explained? Does it matter?). The heroine is Norah (Kristen Stewart) who we first see brushing her teeth when something shakes the rig, and causes a critical failure – it’s going to blow soon, and she and the group of survivors she eventually teams up have to find a way to stay alive – essentially, they have to leave the soon to explode rig, and walk a mile across the pitch black ocean floor to the drill itself – where there will be pods that can take them to the surface. Of course, when they get out there, they realize they are not alone.
 
So, yes, you probably know where this is going. Stewart and her compatriots played Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick, T.J. Miller, John Gallagher Jr. and Mamoudou Athie will have to try and survive these creatures, but in essence, most will get picked off one by one. There is some attempt (thankfully little) to give most of these characters some backstory – some emotional connection for the audience to hold onto – but the film doesn’t dwell too heavily on them. Basically, they are out in the dark, murky waters where something can pop out at you at any time, with no warning, and there will be a lot of talk about oxygen levels and water pressure– because of the creatures don’t kill you then one of those certainly will.
 
The movie is effective on its own modest scale. Stewart, one of the best actresses in the world, doesn’t try and do something all that unique or different here – this isn’t her pulling out all the stops like she did in last year’s Charlie’s Angels for instance – but she more than grounds the film, and seems to be having fun in the role – which is really all that is required of her. The rest of the cast do their jobs as well – especially Cassel, who like Stewart is overqualified for his role, but knows what to do with it. I also liked Henwick, who has to play the young, na├»ve, scared one – but doesn’t make the role sound as generic as that sounds.
 
The film was directed by William Eubank, who it should be said, knows how to construct a jump scare. The creature effects aren’t the greatest, but they’re certainly passable, especially considering so much of the film is so dark that you don’t always see them clearly. Underwater is a completely forgettable movie – you’ll likely even forget the title in a few months, and if someone brings up that “Kristen Stewart movie where there’s creatures in the ocean” you may even have to strain to remember whether or not you’ve seen it. It’s that kind of generic film. It does, however, do precisely what it sets out to do.

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