Poor Disney. After spending US$71.3 billion buying 20th Century Fox, they realised that along with the Deadpool, X-Men and The Simpsons cash cows came more than a few cinematic dogs. Now that it’s January and all the prestige films for 2019 have either already been or will be widely released in the next week or two, we’re starting to see just how bad some of those bottom-of-the-barrel films are. This week’s entry is UNDERWATER, a film that was shot three years ago but is only hitting all our screens now. If you’ve been wondering how bad boy T.J. Miller (the DEADPOOL films; OFFICE XMAS PARTY; TV’s SILICON VALLEY) was allowed to be in a movie after being #MeToo’d out of Hollywood in 2017, this is how.
Barely more than 60 seconds into UNDERWATER than all hell breaks loose on the underwater mining station that’s sitting seven miles below the ocean’s surface on the Mariana Trench. It appears that an earthquake has destroyed the mega-complex, instantly killing all but six of the 316 crew. Left alive are mechanical engineer Norah (Kristen Stewart, CHARLIE’S ANGELS, J.T. LEROY; BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK; PERSONAL SHOPPER; CAFÉ SOCIETY; STILL ALICE; CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA), the Captain (Vincent Cassell, JUSTE LA FIN DU MONDE; BLACK SWAN; EASTERN PROMISES), everyone’s favourite guy Smith (John Gallagher Jr., THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST; SHORT TERM 12), comic relief Paul (Miller), research assistant and token Asian Emily (Jessica Henwick, TV’s GOT) and expendable Black character Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie, THE CIRCLE). With air running out, the Captain determines that the group’s only chance of survival is to put on bulky but high tech deep sea diving suits, dive another mile down and then walk about a mile on the ocean floor to a satellite station where they will be able to take pods up to the surface. And off they go but they’ve got company and it’s of the gruesome prehistoric aquatic variety.
In case you haven’t realised it yet, UNDERWATER is ALIEN Under the Sea with Norah being Ripley. There’s nothing original about this story as even Norah, just like Ripley, strips down to her skivvies, except in Norah’s case it’s a trendy sports bra. To its credit though, the jump-scares are well spaced, and the sense of claustrophobia that the characters are feeling is palpable. K-Stew is the best thing about this movie as all the other actors’ talents are completely wasted. (John Jr. – You are so much better than this!) Her angsty acting style is well suited for Norah who, we find out, experienced a fairly major trauma related to the water, which may lead you to wonder why (a) this company would think she’d be a good fit to spend an extended period of time on the ocean floor and (b) why she would want to do it in the first place. But hey, there are plenty of other plot holes to consider besides this one, like what do Smith, Paul and Rodrigo do anyway? Or why don’t they take extra oxygen canisters with them on their trek? Or how is it that there are only five diving suits when 316 people live aboard this thing?
As derivative as the film is, it doesn’t make any pretense about being anything other than a B-grade sci-fi thriller. There’s barely any preaching about how we’re destroying our planet or whether or not it’s ethical to kill a species that we’ve never encountered before. If that’s your thing, then check it out. Otherwise, save your cash for something that might be good like A QUIET PLACE PART II, which is expected out in March.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, January 10th, 8:30 am HK time!
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