REEL Review – Underwater (2020)

Director: William Eubank | Runtime: 1h 35mins | Action, Drama, Horror

After a suspected earthquake devastates a research station at the bottom of the ocean, Norah (Kristen Stewart) and a group of fellow survivors must make it to a nearby drill for safety. While venturing on the ocean floor, they come face to face with what really caused the destruction.

With the high-concept of an underwater Alien (1979) it looked as though Underwater could potentially be a hit, but unfortunately William Eubank’s doesn’t come close to Scott’s classic, and as much as Stewart tries the main character of Norah is no Ripley. It’s heavy-handed attempts to create awareness feel dry, and the story is a dreary and muddled attempt at creating tension as well as occasional humour.

Despite it’s consistent flaws the movie actually opens with a bang, as Norah’s inner monologue, while inconsequential, is followed by a jolting explosion that sees the action begin fast. With some unique uses of slow-motion, and quick rises in pace, it feels like the movie might attempt to stay on this level. Debris everywhere and water slowly engulfing the underwater drill station, Norah and her newer colleague Rodrigo (that’s all we really know about him) have to save themselves and actually end up sacrificing a couple of stragglers behind them.

This sets in motion an emotional level that the film cannot replicate until it’s finale, as most of the crew salvaged lack personality and have no real impact on the film’s story. Included in the cast are some quality talents, with Vincent Cassel playing ‘Captain’, and T. J. Miller playing Paul, a hollow archetype of every role the actor has ever played. While the cast is trying their best, the writing and tectonic tonal shifts leave each performance jagged and sometimes completely irrelevant.

…the ending is nothing without a good build, and while the unique slow-motion and inner monologues do come back, the damage has still be done.

The film’s biggest flaw in the larger parts of the movie is it’s confusing attempts to balance tension, humour and sentimentality. While in the thick of it Norah and Paul exchange weak banter that neither builds their relationship or gives you a laugh, and one scene that infuriatingly ruins it’s own tension building is when we are first introduced to the monster. As Paul and Smith (John Gallagher Jr.) are walking in the depths of the ocean to find a wreckage, It’s strangely accompanied by a characters monologue about her Corgi. These two types of tone are completely unbalanced, and take away the impact of both.

Like the start though, the ending is a little stronger. There is self-sacrifice, and we are left with the only characters really worth enduring as they attempt to make it to the surface after a long old slog through treacherous (and barely visible) waters. But the ending is nothing without a good build, and while the unique slow-motion and inner monologues do come back, the damage has still be done.

Underwater’s conceptual promise is let-down by inconsistency and weak characters, and despite the cast being a strong one they really struggle to salvage any likable traits from the wreckage. A titanic disappointment and for a film set in such depths, it can’t help but feel shallow.

Verdict:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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