By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
After writing and directing two artistically ambitious, but not completely satisfying science fiction films (Love, The Signal) William Eubanks has decided to go with what probably initially seemed like a safe bet. Pretty much an an underwater, Alien knock-off, Underwater is not only a murky mess visually, it is a bit messy when it comes to storytelling and the development of its characters. Though the movie has its share of thrills, tension and genuine horror, Eubanks and his writers never really do anything to really set this movie apart from other monster flicks or movies that take place under the sea. Though the material is highly derivative, the potential for a truly exciting thriller was there, but the choices of the filmmakers fail to keep this near dud from soaring above the surface.
Kristen Stewart stars as Norah Price, a tough and determined mechanical engineer who has probably already spent way too much time working in an underwater drilling facility. As the movie opens, Norah clearly shows the worn-out signs of cabin fever and isolation from the rest of the normal world. With her, she also carries some emotional baggage of tragedy in her life. As she laments her current luving situation and ponders the ghosts of the past, Norah gets slapped in the face by a major disaster occurring all around her.
Her undersea facility begins to collapse and she must muster all strength, courage, and intelligence to survive. She manages to regroup with other employees Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel), Paul (T J Miller), Emily Haversham (Jessica Henswick), Liam Smith (John Gallagher Jr.), Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie), and Lee (Gunner Wright). These remaining survivors decide to suit up and trek across the ocean floor to a particular part of the station where escape pods are available. With limited oxygen and time, the crew soon discovers that other dangers are lurking along the way.
Written by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad, Eubanks’ latest film does have its intense and suspenseful moments, but ultimately disappoints due to its often indecipherable visuals, uneven tone, and lack of interesting characters. Eubanks and director of photography Bojan Bazelli succeed in creating a claustrophobic nightmare, but never create a clear presentation of the environment of the movie. This definitely takes away from the visual shocks that the movie should have. In addition, the potential for compelling character development is there, but never completely delivers.
Despite these limits, the cast members offer the best performances they can. Kristen Stewart performs well as the main character Norah, a strong, but mostly dull lead character. T J Miller definitely seems out of place as the sarcastic and quippy crew member who doesn’t seem like the right personality to be working in this particular environment. Miller obviously has his amusing moments, but his brand of improvisational humor mostly clashes with the overall tone of the film. The rest of the cast members offer solid work, but are never given anything really interesting to do.
Had these characters had better development, I probably would’ve cared more about their fates. And because the filmmakers failed to give its film a clearer and more dynamic vision, I’d certainly would’ve enjoyed the experience more. Otherwise, Underwater is just another monster knock-off with no real steam of its own.