Everybody loves a monster movie. Also, Kristen Stewart. I’m not sure why we love her (although I have the sneaking suspicion it’s her lip-biting apathy), but we do – and guess what?! She’s in a monster movie. And it’s in theatres. Right now.
“…this thrillride is entertaining enough for you to shut off your brain, shove popcorn in your face, and get your deep-sea monster on.”
Underwater throws K. Stew seven miles deep in the pacific ocean, at the bottom of the Mariana Trench (side note: this movie taught me ‘Mariana’ doesn’t have an “s” at the end of it). She’s a brooding mechanical engineer aboard some kind of underwater drill that’s drilling for some sort of thing, and that drill may have just accidentally unearthed something big. (A monster. We’ve all seen the poster. It’s a monster.)
Like Cloverfield under the sea, Underwater is a tense and harrowing journey for survival when the walls are literally caving in, and oxygen is of the essence. Though the stake raising is pretty consistently far-fetched only to conveniently let our heroes exercise their plot muscles, this thrill ride is entertaining enough for you to shut off your brain, shove popcorn in your face, and get your deep-sea monster on.
Directed by William Eubank’s from a screenplay by Adam Cozad and Brian Duffield, Underwater invites us aboard the subterranean vessel’s lavatories where we first meet Kristen Stewart’s Norah. Rocking her Ripley-esque skivvies and a haircut that’s a very punk-rock version of Katy-Perry-gone-Miley-Cyrus, she brushes her teeth. It seems pretty status quo for Norah, who’s either getting ready for, or coming from bed. But Underwater doesn’t waste much time throwing us into the deep end, because within mere moments of meeting Norah, the hull is breached, and water goes from drip-dripping in to nearly destroying the entire base.
Luckily Norah is quick on her feet and even quicker with a computer, able to narrowly avoid watery disaster by closing off the remaining section of the base and saving another fellow slumberer, Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie) in the process. As they descend into the crumbling rubble that once was their day job, they unearth comedian-who-probably-has-a-job-but-I-don’t-know-what-it-is Paul (T.J. Miller, Cloverfield), crawl past a dead body, and find the ship’s captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel, Eastern Promises), Research Assistant Emily (Jessica Henwick, Game of Thrones), and other insert-essential-job-description Smith (John Gallagher Jr., 10 Cloverfield Lane)
The team must work together to make their way to rescue, completing a series of plot adventure checkpoints on their way to the room of cute little escape pods. Of course, the underwater spacewalk proposed by Captain Lucien sounds like a straight shot, but we know there are monsters hiding in all that darkness. And they’re about to throw a big ol’ wet wrench in the Captain’s plan.
Though a little run-of-the-mill when it comes to tense undersea action/thrillers (or space, for that matter) – Underwater is consistent and fast-paced. There are few opportunities to let the audience’s mind wander, and though the film plants some possible existential nuggets, we’re mostly tethered to our divers. And the divers are much too busy to ask questions (or clearly display their job descriptions) as they fight to fend off the mysterious beasts they’ve let loose.
Kristen Stewart is as moody as ever, and she’s the dreamy androgynous hero bait to Underwater’s sticky trap. We’re helpless to our girl crush’s a-lister draw, eager to catch a glimpse of her quivery lip or sad eyebrow – and also probably her running through a wet disaster in her underoos.
Her supporting cast isn’t given much to standout with, and with the deepsea darkness claiming more than a few of them, there isn’t really much meat to grow or shrink any careers. Except poor TJ Miller, who’s stained reputation was likely the primary reason for this film’s delayed release. His character (as always) is the comedic relief, dropping sometimes-humorous quips into every conversation. There’s so much attempted levity that even his fictional co-workers start throwing around questions regarding his merits in being aboard the ship. I don’t know if you can mutiny when you’re 36 000ft under the sea, but you never know.
As Underwater begins to get grim, the monsters come out to play. Darting in and out of darkness and moving not like a fish in water, but like a demon who’s just joined the earth chat, these beasts display their immediate advantage over our water-stronauts. The human characters might not get much time in the spotlight, but the monsters sure do – we’re given a handful of great reveals and scenes where we can only speculate how, what, or why.
Though pretty standard action-horror fare, Underwater came at a time when winter nights are long and the popcorn hot. Audiences could do far worse than trekking to the bottom of the monster-filled sea.