by Elijah de Castro
Why this cast and this script got 80 million dollars of funding is perplexing. Every decision made in the films production to create the safest, most marketable version of itself possible, or so we can speculate. “Underwater” is reminiscent of recent science fiction horror films, but not of those like Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity”, where there is an artist behind every working piece of the film. More along the lines of 2017’s “Life” or 2013’s “World War Z”. Yeah, remember those movies?
“Underwater” is simple science fiction horror. Norah Price (Kristen Stewart) is a worker on board Tian Industries’ deep sea drilling site, seven miles below the oceans surface. When a series of shaky-cam explosions pose a threat to those aboard the drilling site, she unites with a group of fellow workers also trying to survive.
This is standard set-up for this kind of film, however what “Underwater” forgets to do is properly establish anything. As the film plays out, it holds the audience to the expectation that it should care about these characters. However, what they boil down to are simple, calculated stock horror movie characters. The strong independent girl. The irritating comedic relief (T.J. Miller). The black guy who dies early on (Mamoudou Athie). The sullen, quiet older scientist, who is smarter than anyone else and knows how to save everybody (Vincent Cassel). The two lovebirds who save each other throughout the film (Jessica Henwick and John Gallagher Jr.).
Buried underneath the star power, there is no substance or characterization that the film offers. This problem extends into the other areas of production in the film. The monster that threatens the lives of these characters is never explained, nor is its intention for killing them explained either. The scares in the film are expected and scheduled jump-scares, either showing the monster briefly before it grabs someone and pulls them away, or building to nothing.
“Underwater” is reaching for science-fiction horror films like Alien, but forgets what makes those films effective. The mystery and intrigue is left behind, instead to be replaced by dull characters and unchallenging scares. The shiny production value and the decent special effects are not enough for the film to float. The film walks with the bear bones skeleton of Alien, but forgets that building the muscle is what is takes time and effort and separates it from the slew of science fiction horror films surrounding it.
Given time, “Underwater” will be lost in the sea of science fiction horror B-movies. The film has not presented enough substance for it to remembered, nor has it lived up to the level of quality that the films that influenced it are at. There is nothing here to commemorate, and the shiny veneer representing the money behind it does not elevate the films low-effort presentation and thrown-in-the-bag scares.