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New to VOD - UNDERWATER

underwater review
A vast underwater research station comes under attack from sea monsters.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: William Eubank

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, T.J. Miller, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie

underwater kristen stewart poster


Just as Alien had its imitators in the early 1980s (Galaxy of Terror; Forbidden World; Inseminoid), the end of that decade saw filmmakers similarly attempt to cash in on the success of James Cameron's submerged sci-fi hit The Abyss. Director William Eubank's Underwater plays less like a love letter to Cameron's film than a crudely scribbled post-it note that reads "Make a modern, CG heavy riff on Leviathan and Deep Star Six."


underwater kristen stewart review

As with 2018's immensely silly but relatively fun giant shark caper The Meg, the action of Underwater is set aboard and around a vast research station set up to explore the depths of the Mariana Trench. The station is rocked by what appears at first to be an earthquake, leaving a small group of survivors trapped in the small section that hasn't been flooded. The leader, Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassell), devises a plan to walk across the ocean floor to a nearby station, but as they embark on their survival attempt they discover they aren't alone - the seabed is home to a race of violent fishmen creatures.

[ READ MORE: New Release Review - The Ground Beneath My Feet ]

Two of my all time favourite movies are Jaws and Creature from the Black Lagoon, which is ironic as I generally can't abide any movies that take place at sea or below the surface of oceans, lakes or rivers. As a kid watching TV on my living room floor, whenever James Bond would don a snorkel, that was my cue to head to the kitchen and refill my glass of lemonade. It's a struggle for filmmakers to utilise underwater settings, chiefly because it's a vast open space that doesn't lend itself well to establishing a sense of geography. Some clever filmmakers have found a way around this, like Spielberg's use of those yellow barrels in Jaws, or Johannes Roberts confining the action of 47 Metres Down to a shark cage. Eubank doesn't appear to fall into the category of Spielberg, or even Roberts, and his movie is a murky mess that leaves us struggling to get a handle on what exactly is going on and where his characters are in relation to each other and their mutant antagonists.


underwater kristen stewart review

Much of this problem arises when Underwater's survivors don heavy deep sea suits. With their matching mech outfits and faces obscured by helmets, they quickly become indistinguishable from one another whenever they aren't speaking. When they are speaking, it's either expository babble or a series of unfunny quips from Paul (T.J. Miller), the film's intensely irritating comic relief. Character development is practically nonexistent, and the film adds in what feels like an after the fact voiceover from its main protagonist, Norah (Kristen Stewart), in an attempt to add some depth. But Norah's voiceover, in which she confesses to being a cynic, doesn't remotely match with her heroic and selfless actions.

[ READ MORE: New Release Review - You Don't Nomi ]

Some of you are probably thinking "Who gives a damn about character development? It's a f*cking monster  movie!" Well, that would be fine if Underwater were even a half-decent monster movie. The fishmen here are as lazy and generic a creation as you might expect from such a derivative movie, and God only knows why creatures that have evolved in the depths of the ocean have a humanoid form. There aren't even any fun or inventive deaths on display, with each character going out in the same manner, their heads exploding inside their helmets when their suits are breached.


underwater kristen stewart review

As bad as the film around her is, Stewart gives it her all, proving she can seamlessly flit between European arthouse fare and Hollywood dross in a manner rarely seen. Her subtle expressions paper over many of the narrative cracks here, and there's a fleeting moment of professional respect she shares with Cassell's crusty seadog that briefly adds a touch of humanity to a film that otherwise feels like it was written by a computer. Eubank finds a clever way of getting Stewart into her knickers for the finale (her pants won't fit into the mech suit), but such ingenuity is sorely lacking elsewhere.

Underwater is on UK VOD from June 15th.




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