Typically, January is the month when a lot of big studios dump projects into theaters and don’t expect a big return. In other words, it’s the doldrums. For the last few years, the deep sea creature feature Underwater has languished on the shelf, but finally, 20th Century Fox, which recently merged with Disney, has released the film. Director William Eubank’s aquatic horror movie is generally flat on character development, but it does have some high tension scares that make it a fun popcorn flick if you’re looking for a way to pass a cold January day.
Kristen Stewart as Norah/Photo Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
The film stars Kristen Stewart as Norah, who is part of an aquatic research crew who must get to safety after an earthquake devastates their subterranean laboratory. Throughout the film, a short, blonde-haired Stewart channels Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in the Alien franchise, including adapting some of her high-action type sequences and masculine characteristics, to the point that one crew member calls her flat-chested. In fact, Stewart is the only semi-memorable character in the film, probably because she’s given the most screen time. Her crew members have little to no character development, and when they’re offed by slimy, prickly deep sea monsters, it’s hard to care about their demise. None of them have much to do, and even Norah is given no backstory. At the beginning of the film, she comments how time becomes meaningless when submerged nearly seven miles undersea, but at no point is it clear how long the crew have been underwater or what their lives were like prior. One of them comments about a dog, but that’s about it.
That said, the film does have a few high-tension moments, including the earthquake and the crew’s struggle for oxygen at various points. Underwater’s other positive factor is the monsters, especially the massive, Cthulu-like creature who is surrounded by deep sea blackness and is generally terrifying. The other monsters are much smaller, but still squirmy, slimy, and creepy. They slap upon the windows of various labs and thump upon the ceilings. One resembles the face sucker in Alien.
Photo Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Underwater is a film that wears its influences on its sleeves, from the Alien-like shots of the laboratory’s long hallways to the Lovecraftian monsters that feel ancient and show just how indifferent the deep sea is towards human life. In one bit of cliched dialogue, a crew member comments that humans have mined the ocean and taken more than they needed, so now it’s the ocean’s turn to take back. Believe it or not, that’s one of the only memorable lines of dialogue throughout the film, as corny as it is.
After spending an hour and a half with the crew in dark, deep waters, it’s hard not to leave the theater feeling a general sense of dread, which is similar to the feeling a reader has at the end of a Lovecraft story. The depths of the ocean are an unforgiving place, best left unexplored. The monsters don’t care who they kill, since the crew is essentially impinging upon their territory. The crew stares into the abyss, and the abyss bites back.
As the year progresses, it’s most likely that Underwater will be forgotten. It’s difficult to even recall the names of the crew members. The monsters are the real stars of this film, and they’re the only aspect that make it worth watching. Final verdict: if you’re looking for something to do to pass a cold January day, then purchase a matinee ticket; otherwise, wait for this to arrive on VOD.