“Underwater” takes from the playbook of Ridley Scott’s “Alien”, where in the ocean no one can hear you scream. Originally to be released three years ago, director William Eubanks “Underwater” calls back to the era of a nineties creature feature. Led by a game performance from Kristen Stewart, who’s cast as her version of Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley. The suspense and tension Eubanks creates is a chaotic viewing experience, making “Underwater” a claustrophobic nail-biter. The action, suspense and tension underwater is effective, but can become hard to look at and understand. It’s as if we are watching the action through a dirty aquarium glass. “Underwater” is the perfect way to spend your Friday and Saturday night at the movies.
In 1979 director Ridley Scott proved that in “space no one can hear you scream” with his sci-fi, horror thriller “Alien”. He set the bar for the alien genre that led to the eighties and nineties overflowing with B-level alien clones in movies like: “Deep Rising”, “The Relic”, “Virus”, “Leviathan” and “The Abyss”.
Director William Eubanks sci-fi thriller “Underwater”, has a premise that is a bit of a horror cliché that we’ve seen many times before, mostly in space thrillers like the classic Ridley Scott masterpiece “Alien”. Eubanks takes a little piece from yes “Alien”, but also a bit from “Leviathan” and “The Abyss”, just rinse and repeat. Being familiar isn’t something Eubanks is trying to avoid. “Underwater” wears it’s influences on it’s sleeve.
While “Underwater” isn’t the first alien film we’ve gotten in the last few years. The most recent being the Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, underrated “Life”. Fans of the creature feature genre will find a lot to enjoy here. Director William Eubank clearly has the chops to direct more bigger-scale movies like this.
“Underwater” has had a delayed path to the screen. Originally to be released back in 2017, this is technically Stewart’s first attempt at a major studio comeback, after a successful indie film run. Kristen Stewart stars as the Ripley-esque lead heroine. Kristen Stewart is clearly game and ideally cast as the Ripley-style hero. She’s closely patterned on Sigourney Weaver, complete with only a sports bra and underwear attire and a buzzcut reminiscent of the one she wore in “Alien 3”.
Stewart has matured into a great actress and throws herself into the part, while we may not think of her as the classically tough action star, she’s never less than believable as the glue that tries to hold her ships crew together. Playing the rest of the crew, Jessica Hardwick (Netflix’s “Iron Fist”), TJ Miller (“Deadpool”), one of my favorite French actors Vincent Cassell (“Crimson Rivers”) and John Gallagher Jr. (“Short Term 12”) and Mamadou Athie playing Rodrigo who…well, is a nice dude. Unfortunately we know what happens to nice dudes in these kind of movies. They make up the team of scientists who are trapped 6 miles below sea level when their station is hit by a catastrophe and learn that they’re not alone.
There’s never a moment that doesn’t take place miles beneath the sea. Eubank’s camera films the murky waters as if we were looking through a dirty aquarium glass, becoming a hard movie to look at and understand what’s going on. Eubank knows how to create suspense, keeping “Underwater” suitably claustrophobic and legitimately terrifying. He literally opens the film in an incredible water breaching sequence that sends Kristen Stewart racing through the ships collapsing hull, being thrown like a rag doll from side-to-side by successive explosions.
This brilliantly staged sequence happens in about the first five or ten minutes, as Eubank ditches the dull setup and any character development, to thrust the characters and us right into the action. The monsters are gnarly, the sets and effects are spectacularly done, the dialogue isn’t always great, and the attempt to make TJ Miller the film’s comic relief never works, with the jokes never sticking a landing. TJ Miller’s attitude doesn’t fit that of anyone else on the vessel, and it’s never entirely clear what his job is.
The frights and suspense of the film is legit as Eubank and cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, make effective use of tight crawlspaces to create a claustrophobic atmosphere, while covered in the sea’s inky darkness, which obscures the monsters just enough to give you a shock. “Underwater” definitely doesn’t drag, rolling along with it’s lean and mean, ninety five minute run time. The pace is at a relentless clip that doesn’t give you a chance to think, or let alone breathe.
It’s ludicrous to even recommend “Underwater”, when it’s opening on the same weekend as Sam Mendes’ Golden Globe award winning “1917”. Even though the World War 1 film is a master class in filmmaking. Eubanks “Underwater” is a perfect way to spend your Friday and Saturday night at the movies. It’s hard not to think that “Underwater” should have been connected to a cinematic universe of some kind, like say…”Cloverfield”?
“Underwater” has style and good production design. It’s a fun throwback to a time when we got films featuring a heroine, a sinking sea lab, and some very gnarly monsters. “Underwater” has a lot of air in it’s tanks, keeping it from sinking to the bottom of the ocean like most January films. This is the first sleeper hit of the year.
GRADE: ★★★1/2☆☆ (3 & 1/2 out of 5)