Underwater makes for uncomfortable viewing for someone terrified of driving through the Sydney Harbour Tunnel, but it lacks innovation to elevate it into something more than a series of knock-off jump scares and claustrophobia-inducing sequences.
Kristen Stewart is Norah, a mechanical engineer living and working in a (seemingly very flimsy) deep-sea station when it begins to collapse. Ditching all semblance of exposition, we are thrown into the heart-racing drama of a select few people attempting to escape the doomed station and reach the safety of the surface.
Norah and her colleagues Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie as one of two people of color in a horror-esque film – it’s not hard to guess his ultimate fate), Smith (John Gallagher Jr), Emily (Jessica Henwick), Paul (TJ Miller) and Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel) decide their only hope of survival is to use deep-sea diving suits to walk along the ocean floor to a separate drilling site. Once outside in the pitch darkness, we’re given shaky, blurry point-of-view shots of the action which heighten the realism but make it difficult to keep track of the narrative. It’s not just the dark and limited oxygen supplies the crew need to be wary of – there is something out there following them.
The pace rarely slows from its exhausting full throttle as the group attempts to escape this underwater alien, but this does little to distract from the fact that when not in the diving suit, Norah is almost always running around in her underwear. Granted, when the collapse of the station occurs she is brushing her teeth in a bra and tracksuit pants and doesn’t have time to throw on a shirt, but when she removes her tracksuit pants to get in the diving suit, she never gets a chance to get fully dressed again. At one point she does put a sweatshirt on, but fails to find any trousers… Even before the credits roll it’s clear that a man is at the helm of this film.
Underwater attempts to incorporate the narrative of humanity going too far in its exploitation of the natural world, but with the obvious feminizing of the ocean and subsequent demonizing of it, it does so poorly and without perspective. The actors do their best with the very flat characters they’ve been given but when they start to succumb to the ocean, it’s with little sympathy or sadness from the audience. It’s a shame that this poorly-written disaster film is the last film to be released under the 20th Century Fox banner, with its new owner Disney scrambling to disassociate itself from the Fox moniker.
This film is basically Alien (1979) but less scary and set underwater – it even has a fetus-like monster squirming on a table.
Actors wore airtight suits for the underwater scenes, making it difficult to hear the director’s commands. Each suit weighed about 140 lbs.