“What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.” -Werner Herzog
It’s that time of year again; the time when Hollyweird takes inventory of their catalog of leftovers and try to salvage something resembling a profit. Usually what they find just shy of spoiling is PG-13 horror dreck, run-of-the-mill comedies, pointless action flicks, and misfired dramas. The quality of these movies can make a person scratch their head in confusion and yet every year they still exist, brand new ones still dropping out of the ass of Hollyweird into the movie dumping ground, aka January.
Underwater is the best kind of January release you can hope for. Its subpar final cut during any other time of year would look dismal but during the month of cinematic diarrhea it’s actually quite a bit of fun. The faults and unoriginality are at every turn but to focus only on the cons is to ignore everything it does right. One of its strengths is the use of its setting, making full effect of a murky, pitch black surrounding creating a constant feeling of claustrophobia and unease for fear of the unknown in a world seven miles beneath the surface of the ocean. As someone who fears the ocean second to none, a horror movie set in the greatest depths of the unexplored waters is a film where half the work is already done before the story really ever begins.
Another pro is the urgency of the story, getting to the point within the first three minutes and rarely does it let up from there. Underwater also benefits from a premise that absolutely goes for broke creating a world of otherworldly creatures that are equal parts nightmare and lovecraftian. Faced with one of two choices, to let off the gas or a pedal to the metal approach it throttles into another gear telling the audience to either buy in or get left behind. I for one appreciated this choice rather than holding back for the sake of leaving some people confounded. It reached for the most extreme scenario creating a staggering finale with unimaginable repercussions for the world beyond this blackened trench.
I don’t know if you can call it a strength but a cast that could have easily sunk this thing like a screen door on a submarine, actually finds its place as an entertaining albeit disposable crew of oceanauts who surprisingly don’t do what I thought they would which was make this unwatchable. A particular worrying cast member is of course the driftwood of Hollyweird, Kristen Stewart. I can admit that she shows moments of genuine talent but so often it’s a swipe of the hair with an awkward look of someone completely out of their element. Surprisingly and thankfully she actually manages a passable performance here being both heroic when need be and scared shitless as anyone would be. She holds her own here even when the movie as a whole falls off the rails.
I suppose you can fault the story for a serious lack of character development but I would maintain character background in a story of scary monsters in the ocean with this kind of pacing isn’t exactly necessary. But, as I’ve said more times than I can count, to care about a character’s wellbeing in the midst of such terror and immediate danger you have to know the character, you need context of which there is none to be found here. The quiet heroine, the selfless captain, the scared rookie, and of course the comedy relief characters, it’s a paint by numbers approach to character creation. They are every bit as disposable as a used condom.
I maintain however despite its lack of identity beyond the shadows of Alien and The Abyss, Underwater is better than it has any right to be. I had no hope for this one and surprisingly I was left with a fun ninety minutes at the cinema. For a January release this is about as good as it gets. It has a style all its own while frequently calling back to classics it so obviously admires such as the aforementioned Alien and The Abyss. The creatures are intimidating and utilized to strong effect fleeing the light for a more hidden path deep within the darkest reaches of the planet. The finale is over-the-top but completely owns that fact making for something unexpected in the final minutes of this flawed but fun monster movie. Keep expectations low, accept there will be flaws aplenty and just allow it to go wherever it may.
Rated PG-13 For: sci-fi action and terror, and brief strong language
Runtime: 95 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Action, Drama, Horror
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, T.J. Miller, Jessica Henwick
Directed By: William Eubank
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 3/ Acting: 3.5/ Directing: 3.5/ Visuals: 4
OVERALL: 3 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: Yes
Check out the trailer below:
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