Underwater movie poster

Underwater

In theaters January 10, 2020

, , ,

95 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: , , , ,

Underwater is going to draw a lot of comparisons to Alien (1979), but it’s far tenser, and the unrelenting dread is only one of its downsides.

Norah (Kristen Stewart) and the other survivors of the collapse of the deep-sea drilling and mining expedition of the Mariana Trench find themselves 6 miles down with guests no one expected. They have to travel further down to the ocean floor, braving unimaginable pressure and claustrophobia to get to a deeper control center where pods are waiting to make it back to the surface. Earthquakes are initially to blame, but something intelligent and hungry stalks them from station to station, waiting to peel back the tin of their suits and slurp their innards like warm, wriggling sardines.

“What’s the worst part of a roller coaster,” one of them asks. “The line” is the answer, because the person means, the wait and the anticipation. For me, the worst part is the car ride up, the slow clocking of the anti-rollback device as you slowly reach the top and are hurtled over the edge. That’s all Underwater is – the slow ride to the top of that first big hill. There is never a breather to get your bearings as Norah, Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie), Paul (T.J. Miller), Smith (John Gallagher), Emily (Jessica Henwick), and the Captain (Vincent Cassel) don their pressurized suits to navigate the alien landscape that is the deep, dark ocean floor. They also have to crawl through collapsed tunnels, dodge falling station debris, and evade the creatures the mining operation either didn’t account for or ignored were there – they leave that part up to you. With death staring them in the face and limited shots from inside of the suits, it all is very close and it’s not recommended for the anxious or phobic.

There are no badasses in this Underwater. No one is the savior, though Norah’s acumen with getting open doors is welcome and necessary, and unfortunate sacrifices are made along the way. Paul provides some comic relief, but it’s gallows humor. Emily is good for poking a creature only to announce that it’s nothing she’s ever seen before, which is assumed, but there’s no time to investigate because they’re still close to imploding due to the pressure. Captain is decisive, and Smith provides the injured reason for moving forward. There’s no time for character development because living in the moment is all they have. They’re just worker bees caught in an impossible situation, and frankly, that will have to do. We almost care because we’re committed for 95-minutes, but none of them are going to be remembered after the credits roll.

The creature design in Underwater is rather fantastic, in an odd cross between Swamp Thing and a Lovecraftian Elder God. If there are small ones, there are large ones, and while we have seen recent news reports and studies of (authentic) creatures that can survive the pressure so close to the bottom, nothing prepares you for the graceful slithering death of these monsters. Science Fiction movies that take place in space are excellent about showing humans; we are the most fragile things in the universe. Underwater shows the same is true for the ocean, but unlike the cold emptiness of space, the sea is full of things that will eat us.

Underwater is rated PG-13 for swears, relentless tension, terrifying creatures, and a few imploding victims.

Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.

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