By Bradley Lane
The concept behind Underwater is simple; the crew of a deep-sea mining operation struggle to survive a structural collapse. Every moment the crew overcomes an obstacle is almost immediately stifled by a new more pressing issue caused by mysterious circumstances that lead to the collapse of the mining station. Most of the film sticks with this simple, plot-driven, approach to storytelling; those are the best parts of Underwater. Where the film falters is in its attempts to be a larger, more grandiose film than it really is; in these moments, Underwater feels more akin to the first draft of a 14-year-old’s creative writing project.
Kristen Stewart stars as the film’s protagonist, Norah, a woman of few words who has extreme technical proficiency in computers, mechanics and just about whatever else the plot asks of her. Thrown into the thick of the plot mere minutes after appearing on screen, the audience has very limited insight into her character. That is, apart from the one aspect of her character the film beats you over the head with throughout the film.
This super focused, stripped-down approach to narrative and character works in the moment but leaves you wanting just a little more, especially considering the weak third act. The film takes a real risk in the third act, and depending on your sensibilities, I foresee audiences either loving or hating the ending. The film for me personally just fell apart in the transition between the second and third acts due to thematic dissonance between what had been previously established up to that point.
Despite this, Underwater is still a tense genre piece that uses its location and setting to its advantage in creating tension. This does, however, lend itself to the argument that the film is slightly derivative of similar horror films. Specifically, the use of setting and Norah’s ethos share an uncanny resemblance with a key influence on Underwater, Alien and its protagonist Ellen Ripley. Certainly, some moments of the film are direct homage to Ridley Scott’s classic, but that does not make up for the fact that the majority of the film feels like a worse version of Alien.
Despite some reservations about the ending and its similarity to Alien, you could do a whole lot worse at the movies right now and Underwater has a killer build up. This one is sure to have audiences with a tight clutch on their armrests, and a slight clinch in their jaws. -3/5 stars