Director: William Eubank
Starring: Kristen Stewrd, Vincent Cassel, Mamoduou Athie, TJ Miller, John Gallagher Jr, Jessica Henwick. USA/Canada. 1h 35m
It was only a matter of time where the connection between the isolation of outer space was going to be matched by that of a deep dark space closer to the earth was going to be matched up and Cthulhu chucked in for good measure. The last milestone year for underwater horrors was 1989 which saw the release of three masterworks DeepStar Six (1989), Leviathan (1989), and The Abyss (1989) which saw fearless deep sea adventurers encountering different unknown vicious beasts and sometimes aliens while often digging deep into the earth’s crust. So why not knock it up a notch now that we have access to a lot more.. technology and green screens.
William Eubank is obsessed with a flighty spacey sci fi adventures filled with twists and turns from the epic loneliness of Love (2011) and his attempt to make a viable sci fi mystery in The Signal (2014) which looked stunning but employed too much slow mo action , he’s certainly built up an amiable arsenal of techniques and the ability to build gorgeous sets and to create a realistic other world atmosphere, nevertheless he keeps most of this new epic Underwater fairly grounded under the final act where all hell quite literally breaks lose.
Launching with a brief introduction to his lead, Norah (Stewart) who fishes a spider out of the sink while brushing her teeth, while getting ready for the start of her shift. 7 miles down into the Mariana Trench her company, Tian Industries intends to drill for resources from their Keppler 822 Station, but before the minty taste has worn off, water begins to drip from the ceiling and the base is ripped apart by a powerful earthquake. Running for her life, Norah attempts to struggle to the surface with a handful of other survivors but they begin to realise that the earthquake wasn’t just a shift in the earth’s crust and they are not alone.
The most senior person around is a craggy Captain Lucien (Cassel) who’s calm nature helps keep everyone on track and calling for the best decision and the best from his newly assembled crew he begins to assemble them. Suiting up into (literally) heavy space like suits, they start their journey, but being so far down the realisation that death can come from the pressure or drowning is all around them. We know that Norah is caring, she saved a spider, but we also know she’s a strong independent woman, cos he has short hair, and it’s really interesting to see Stewart play the new age Ripley, but it’s a shame her back up was Jessica Henwick whose only job was to remain adorable and highly panicked. The brawn comes from John Gallagher and TJ Miller, Gallagher doesn’t really come into his own so much here as much as he did in 1o Cloverfield Lane and spends half the film unconscious but Miller really stole the show with his stand up one liners. His wonderful performance behind the camera in Cloverfield (2008) shows that he’s pretty bad ass in front of the camera while fighting evil sea critters but I would have loved him and bunny to have a bigger role
7 Miles below the ocean surface, something has awakened.
There is a desperate attempt to force home the idea that Norah is obsessed with sacrificing herself to save everyone and she’s constantly assessing who would “make it” at first it’s Lusien as he has a daughter, then it’s anyone who has family. As a woman who took the job after a bad break up she generally feels pretty low but there’s no need to harp on this ideal.
The constantly breaking down of the station keeps the movie pretty fresh the team hardly have much time to settle in or catch their breath before they are on the run again, the station itself looks and feels like the older sci fi aesthetics, it’s not star trek, as it’s not a space station but it sits somewhere in between, touch screens and quilted walls, there’s a lot of plausible tech and that raw machinery around giving off a vibe that Martin Bower brought to the genre with his amazing sets and models for Alien (1979).
Bringing on the Alien Vibes really does help propel the final fears into the film as the crew begin to find strange looking creatures feeding on the corpses of their dead team members but this is only the beginning of what is lurking out there which is the major selling point of the movie but it’s generally hushed up, so I don’t wanna give too many spoilers but… Cthulhu. I only mention this as I feel it’s become a bit of a cop out now, whenever anyone wants to sell a movie then add Cthulhu, there’s a pretty epic mythos and we can have monsters which aren’t Lovecraft inspired.. Just saying..
The feeling of desperate dread is pretty constant but the rush of emotions seems a bit subdued. The effects and their application are quite sensational, but yet again Eubank falls into this slow mo ending trap but it’s not as overdone as The Signal. But by the time the film comes to a close there’s a little news leak which leads the film onto part two, but I wouldn’t read too much into this as the beginning already tried to warn the viewers that this could all be a deep sea hallucination, did you see the hint? I have it here.
With such low expectations for Stewart, she held her own in the movie but she doesn’t make it great, the intense rush of the constant escapes and step build up of terror is quite enough and this comes from introducing new fears and conundrums each step of the way, the claustrophobia and unknown fears just leap off the screen. Eubanks is a very capable director and he’s only getting better but I feel his Magnum Opus is yet to come but for certain it will be in an unreachable space which contains some formidable fears.
R: Love (2011), The Signal (2014), Alien (1979), DeepStar Six (1989), Leviathan (1989), Abyss (1989)
L: Undersea Adventures, HP Lovecraft Sci Fi
5s: Vincent Cassell, Kristen Stewart