CERT: 15 | DIRECTOR: WILLIAM EUBANK | SCREENPLAY: BRIAN DUFFIELD, ADAM COZAD | STARRING: KRISTEN STEWART, CINCENT CASSEL, JESSICA HENWICK, T.J. MILLER | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
What’s more terrifying than the vastness and mystery of our oceans? Like the vacuum of space, only with the darkness concealing possible life and new dangers, beneath the deep blue sea is arguably the best place to set a horror film. Alas, there are not as many movies as you might expect that draw their fear entirely from being stuck at the bottom of these very real dark watery depths. However, back in 1989, there was a boom of such deep sea terror, as films like Leviathan and DeepStar Six aimed to capitalise on the upcoming release of James Cameron’s The Abyss and in turn they became known from this point on as aquatic horrors. Now, over 30 years later, William Eubank’s (The Signal) new film Underwater acts as a big screen resurgence (or rather resurfacing) of this wave (tee-hee) of horror.
The film sees a Marianna Trench drilling station devastated by a mysterious catastrophe. As the walls are caving in and water is filling the halls, the few remaining crew must attempt daring and dangerous new ways to escape and survive but something is out there waiting for them…
This is the last film released under the 20th Century Fox name (Hail, Disney) and while it has sadly sank at the box office, Underwater is very much worth your time. The budget has been put to excellent use, as this film combines vast impressive sets with murk-laden CG spectacle that really makes you feel as if you are stuck in the overwhelming shadowy waters (sometimes you are forced to do a double take yourself to see through the impenetrable grey walls of water). The plot may jump straight into the carnage, though it takes its time to reveal the actual monster - but when it does, there is a big surprise in store, sure to bring joy to fans of seafaring fiction.
Admittedly, Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad’s screenplay is flawed by some hit and miss gags and by its familiar reverence to other films of this ilk, but like the aforementioned Leviathan and DeepStar Six before it, and like the underrated 2017 film Life, the setting is claustrophobic, the monster deadly, the build suspenseful and the otherworldly atmosphere works its sinister magic. Eubank’s film is impressively crafted, with superb cinematography by Bojan Bazelli and a tone-setting score by Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts.
Some characters are, of course, thin, but the survivalist narrative plays out in gripping fashion and Kristen Stewart stands out among the likeable pack of workers fighting to live, playing Norah with confidence and grit. And there are some occasions where the film welcomingly hones in on the human stakes of the lives lost and doesn’t just feel like these people are unimportant tallies on a monster’s kill count. The ending especially anchors this very point.
Bookended by MonsterVerse-esque opening and closing credits, Underwater is an enjoyably delivered, well made, moist monster melee that is perfectly equipped to offer a submerged cinematic wave of entertainment.