- Nikki Baughan
- 5 February 2020
Exciting action, impressive effects and a strong cast led by Kristen Stewart bolster this derivative genre flick
Combining the latest filmmaking techniques with a 70s disaster-sequel narrative and a schlocky B-movie creature feature, Underwater is as enjoyable – and throwaway – as that concoction would suggest. Kristen Stewart goes full-on action hero in a role that requires her to perform immense feats at the very depths of the ocean (mostly while wearing her underwear) and her committed performance, and the camaraderie of the supporting players, helps steer this film through some of its more murky moments.
Stewart is Norah – a name deliberately chosen for its similarity to Noah, one might assume – a mechanical engineer working nearly seven miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean on a huge drilling rig. When the facility is compromised by an earthquake, Norah and a small band of survivors, including TJ Miller's wisecracking Paul, Vincent Cassel's calm Captain and Jessica Henwick's anxious research assistant Emily, must attempt to find their way to the surface. This terrifying ordeal is intensified by the discovery of a giant, tentacle-waving undersea creature, which seems hell-bent on destroying everything in its path.
The filmmaking is genuinely impressive, with director William Eubank (The Signal) employing cutting-edge VFX and underwater technology to fully immerse us in this subterranean nightmare. It may take place amidst the vastness of the ocean, but the bleached colour palette and intimate cinematography from Bojan Bazelli – we spend a lot of time trapped inside Norah's helmet, and visibility beyond the throw of a torch light is virtually non-existent – emphasises the claustrophobic, panicked atmosphere. Sound design, too, is an ominous cacophony of muffled creaks, groans and bangs.
Watching a group of misfits fight for their lives in an inhospitable environment is a mainstay of action cinema, and Underwater offers nothing new in that regard. In fact, influences – from Alien and Gravity, to The Abyss, Jaws and Pacific Rim – are obvious, both in the visuals and a by-the-numbers script, which eschews any genuine character development in favour of broad-stroke dialogue, like Emily's observation that, 'We took too much from the ocean and now she's taking it back.' And yet everything moves at a real clip, and the action sequences are so genuinely bombastic, that any such niggles are largely washed away by Underwater's sheer entertainment value.
General release from Fri 7 Feb.