Underwater review Kristen Stewart Jessica Henwick

Year: 2019
Director(s): William Eubank
Writer(s): Brian Duffield, Adam Cozad
Region of Origin: USA
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: PG-13
Color, 95 mins

Synopsis: A crew of aquatic miners work to get to safety after an earthquake devastates their subterranean laboratory.  (Source)

Underwater opens with a BANG – quite literally. The film wastes absolutely no time establishing anything, but rather quickly submerges us into a pressurized sphere of anxiety-inducing terror. Make no mistake, the film’s very DNA screams of its Alien heritage. And yet, director William Eubank injects his take with just enough to make the film stand on its own. The result is an extremely fun thrill ride that offers zero escape and is anchored by some incredibly nasty Lovecraftian creature design. On top of it all, Kristen Stewart slays (no surprise there), and an unexpectedly human message really lingers. 

The story begins as catastrophic seismic activity cripples the Kepler mining station, situated within the Mariana Trench and seven miles undersea. The crew, which had been overseeing the world’s largest mining drill, is reduced to just a handful of survivors in minutes. With the undiscovered sea literally caving in on them, they embark on a last-ditch effort to survive. Mechanical engineer Norah Price (Kristen Stewart), Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel), and more, scrounge up a few pressured diving suits. The plan is a one-mile hike to another station which may have working communication or escape pods. Naturally, this is all easier said than done. Their mining has woken some creatures from slumber and they’re ready to reclaim their dominance. 

Underwater review Kristen Stewart Vincent Cassel

With the film unfolding in near real time, there’s no filler to be found here. From the film’s tense opening to its literally massive ending, Eubank leans on economical storytelling and dazzling set pieces. It’s the simplicity of the story, that it’s about characters going from point a to b, that allows it to thrive. Each scene is more tense than the last. And as the crew is whittled down in horrific ways, Eubank makes the most of each frame. In essence, the film’s fear of being submerged as everything goes wrong is scary enough on its own. The inclusion of monsters makes the helplessness and isolation of each characters’ fight that much more urgent.

Thanks to Eubank’s production design background, the film also enefits from practical effects and visuals that are a sci-fi fan’s wet dream. There’s a real grit and weight to everything we see, building out a blue collar world threatened by the vast unpredictability of nature. The bulky, mechanical diving suits boast style and practicality, while the pervading atmosphere of ruined station corridors, glitching AI warnings and waterlogged future-tech make us feel the pressure of being trapped in a foreign yet familiar world. Without saying too much, the creatures are worthy to be remembered alongside a pantheon of slithery, vicious horror icons. There is stuff in here that would make Guillermo del Toro proud, and these baddies more than get their chance to shine. These creatures easily fill the void of a badly underserved subgenre.

Underwater review Kristen Stewart

By nature, the film just has a handful of actors. Luckily, they connect us with the admittedly threadbare story. At the top, Kristen Stewart’s Norah is who makes the story actually hit. After cutting her teeth in more abstract art house films, this is proof that she can carry a blockbuster. Her character is headstrong and fierce yet understated. She’s no nonsense, doesn’t sit around talking about doing something, but just rather goes for it. Stewart sells the few emotional beats with sincerity. Vincent Cassel is always a welcome addition to any ensemble, while Jessica Henwick has great chemistry with Stewart. In fact, Stewart and Henwick’s characters are the entire effort’s backbone, giving it its most satisfying plot thread. T. J. Miller – the less said the better, but he doesn’t ruin the fun… Overall, these characters are great because they never try to betray or backstab one another. They instantly unite in the face of their struggles and stick together the best they can. 

Beneath the film’s effortlessly cool execution, is a surprising message that’s simple and effective. While it isn’t as rendered as deeply as it could’ve been, there’s a blinding message of hope. The film literally is about shining a light in the darkness. Most films of this type are all about that last nihilistic “gotcha”, while this one offers up a more finite and emotional conclusion. The characters here struggle with their own doubts and fears, yet aren’t anti-heroes. They’re normal people who want to save each other to the best of their abilities. With Stewart’s Norah facing an ending that puts her every being to the test, the film ends on a high note that’s satisfying beyond surface-level character work. It’s this poignancy that ultimately compliments the film’s thrills and adds resonance to an already cool feature. I already can’t wait to see this again once it hits home video. I’ll couple probably it with The Descent and Life, for the perfect earth/sea/space survival triple header.