Underwater (2019)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 1/11/20
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, T.J. Miller, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie

"It's time to stop feeling and start doing."

An underwater earthquake hits a deep-sea drilling rig in the Mariana Trench, causing severe structural damage. Mechanical engineer Norah Price (Kristen Stewart) manages to seal off part of the station before it becomes compromised, buying her some time to make it to the evacuation pods. Unfortunately, there are no pods left, and a small band of survivors led by Capt. Lucian (Vincent Cassel) makes a desperate attempt to reach a nearby station on foot before the rest of the rig collapses. The situation becomes even worse when they encounter a group of fierce unknown creatures in the water, which raises suspicions about them being the source of the trouble rather than an earthquake. With time running out, oxygen running low, and an increasing number of creatures to contend with, will anyone survive?

It's exciting to see Kristen Stewart exploring more action roles and finally making movies that I want to see. She's absolutely brilliant and shines throughout, which makes the unexpectedly downbeat ending a bitter pill to swallow. It's a straight forward sci-fi horror film that does little to distinguish itself from all of the other underwater "Alien" (1979) knock-offs that are out there. However, I appreciated it for what it is, and found its unambitious lack of depth refreshing. It doesn't bother with exposition, character development, emotional engagement, dramatic tension, social commentary, or aspirations of greatness, and is content with just being an unassuming and non-stop thrill ride. It's not particularly scary, and thankfully avoids the all-too-obvious genre pitfalls of claustrophobia and drowning. While the final resolution is reasonable, the moments leading up to it are completely absurd and spoil the mood.

It's a great looking film, and apart from Kristen Stewart, the film's greatest strengths are its art direction, visual design, and spooky music score. Vincent Cassel makes a strong and likable authority figure who may know more about what's going on than he shows. T.J. Miller is annoying and attempts to break the tension with humor, but thankfully shows enough restraint to not ruin the film. John Gallagher Jr. and biologist Jessica Henwick are effectively dead weight, but they make a cute and endearing couple. Plus, it's nice to have another woman in the cast (which satisfies the Bechdel test), and she successfully manages to step up and hold her own. The film was shot in 2017 and shelved for two years, which might be related to Disney's acquisition of Fox, or suggests that neither studio put much faith into the production. Regardless, it's easily forgettable, but I enjoyed all it had to offer. And if nothing else, seeing Kristen Stewart run around in her underwear is well worth the price of admission.