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Underwater – film review

January 29, 2020

UNDERWATER

Epic deep sea sci-fi horror clearly a tribute to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.

Reviewed on Thursday 23rd January 2020

Directed by William Eubank. Screenplay by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad, story by Brian Duffield Starring: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr, Mamoudou Athie, Gunner Wright and T.J. Miller. Running time: 95 mins.

A small group of intrepid survivors embark on a desperate trek to safety – after their deep-sea mining operation is destroyed by unknown forces. They soon find themselves at the mercy of monstrous creatures hellbent on their destruction.

PLEASE NOTE – THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE

Whilst space genre movies are a dime-a-dozen these days (and mostly third rate and forgettable – yes I’m looking at you Interstellar, Life and Ad Astra) – we haven’t had a big epic undersea adventure for quite some time – over three decades in fact. The last time it was the late eighties; when we were treated to a whole run of them including Leviathan, Lords of the Deep, Deepstar Six, The Rift and of course the film which started it all – James Cameron’s The Abyss. Whilst, back in the day, Leviathan was derided and dismissed as merely an Alien and The Thing knock-off set underwater (which it was) and The Abyss labelled Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the bottom of the sea (which in actuality is a fair description) – it’s actually misleading to refer to Underwater as just an undersea rip-off of Alien. Sure, the grimy, lived-in, claustrophobic setting clearly harkens back to the visual aesthetic of Scott’s influential masterpiece, but this isn’t about the horrors being trapped with us inside – with no hope of escape. This is about being forced to go ‘out there’ and confront the horrors     in their own natural environment. These aren’t extraterrestrial horrors (or scientific experiments run amok) these are terrestrial horrors which may well exist (indeed, may have always existed) in an equally hostile and under-explored environment in our own back yard, namely – the bottom of the sea. If anything, the survival aspect of the film is more akin to what we saw in Cameron’s The Abyss – than anything we saw in Alien.

Genre director William Eubank first burst onto the scene with his Earth orbit survival thriller Love in 2011. Bank-rolled by Blink 182 frontman Tom DeLong, this impressive shoe-string indy sci-fi feature was originally conceived as a tie-in to the Angels & Airwaves album of the same name, but quickly became its own much-loved entity and something of a cult fave amongst sci-fi fans upon its release. Eubank followed this three years later with the reality-bending sci-fi mindfuck The Signal in 2014. It was while attempting to get his next proposed feature World Breaker into production – that he happened upon the existing screenplay for Underwater and decided to make this his next project (as it was already financed by a major Hollywood production company and ready to go). Frustratingly, while completed in 2018, the film’s release was postponed indefinitely due to Disney’s announced negotiations to acquire 20th Century Fox. This explains why Underwater is only now gaining a release. Produced on a budget of $50,000,000 (with $20,000,000 being spent on the visual effects alone – taking an incredible fifteen months to complete) I first up have to say – it appears as though every cent is up there on the screen.

Featuring detailed sets and highly-immersive anamorphic photography, this is one visually impressive film. There is a definite sense of claustrophobia to the grimy setting and Eubank’s direction does well in including us in the action. Once again, the helmer employs his signature use of super slo-mo at key moments (recalling effective use of this in both Love and The Signal).

If there’s one thing to be said for this film – it’s fast-moving. The pacing is break-neck from the get-go – and never lets up until the final credits roll. Unlike The Rise of Skywalker however, this works in its favour – as the story is straight forward enough to justify the momentum. Since we know the goal from the outset – much like 1917 – it’s just a matter of watching it play out (pretty much in real time).

Having never seen any of the Twilight movies, I’ve never had an opinion on Kristen Stewart one way or the other. So going into Underwater, I didn’t have any preconceived notions of her prowess as an actor. But I thought she was really good in this. Whether it was due to Eubank’s direction or not – I felt her performance as the angst-ridden heroine Nora was top notch and her casting in this film shouldn’t put anyone off from seeing it. The remainder of the cast are likeable enough, with the always watchable Vincent Cassel (Eastern Promises, Black Swan) – a welcome addition as Captain Lucien.

While starting out as a thrilling survival story – as characters attempt to flee the imploding mine facility, Underwater is gradually revealed to be more an epic sci-fi creature feature; with the threat escalating in number and scope. And for anyone familiar with H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, the final reveal of the largest monster should come as something of a nice surprise.

Overall, Underwater is a fun watch while also being a tense thrill-ride. A well-made epic which maintains interest and doesn’t outstay its welcome.

3.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Marion, January 23rd 2020

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

From → film reviews

5 Comments
  1. Oh man, now you’ve got me. I was curious about this until the reviews started coming in. I love The Abyss and Sphere and this looked perfect for me, and you know, your review just seems to confirm that. Now I have to wait for it to come out on disc, dammit.

    Like

    • gregory moss permalink

      Has it finished its cinema run in your neck of the woods? Definitely one for the big screen. And a good sound system. Forgot to mention how good the sound is for this film.

      Like

  2. gregory moss permalink

    Hey Ian – according to IMDb, it’s not due to be released in the UK until February 7th. So you may still get the chance to see it in the cinema after all. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Cheers Greg, yes I noticed that this morning. I got confused because when 1917 was released over here, there were reviews of Underwater too and I assumed (wrongly) that they were being released at the same time (and that Underwater had sunk without trace quickly as so many films do these days). So yes, I’m certainly keeping an eye out for it now and shall try watch it. I have a few days off work after next week with my birthday coming up, so that may be ideal timing. If so, expect a review accordingly!

    Like

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