There is just no hiding Underwater’s intention to be associated with space-adventure films rather than being a pure deep-sea creature movie. Just take a look at how director William Eubank named one of the drilling stations. Kepler-822 is strikingly similar to Kepler-1229b, an actual red dwarf star positioned hundreds of light years away from Earth. The film had even been dubbed as ‘underwater-Armageddon‘ way back in 2017, and from the way things went, there wasn’t any massive restructuring which could have potentially changed the film’s course from what it intended to be.
Eubank signed Kristen Stewart for the leading role, together with 6 more stars, 3 extras, and that’s about it. This figure is not aimed to undermine Underwater by any means, but it is definitely appropriate to establish the sense of isolation that the film gives, in line with the overall plot movement that Eubank was trying to mould. I reckon that for Underwater, this works perfectly fine, as the concept of ‘the more, the merrier’ could potentially work negatively for films where humans fall prey to creatures. Like The Meg (2018), for example. People just conveniently fall into the sea and become shark-food, which, is as visually exciting as feeding pellets to your goldfish.
Evidently, Eubank was trying to infuse an ample amount of horror into Underwater, without looking like overdoing it. As such, the environment and isolation in Underwater speak for themselves, and gladly, Underwater does not have to resort to pointless scares to get the audience worked up. If there’s one key proposition of Underwater that the production crew had to work in accordance with, it has to be keeping mindless scares in check to distance itself from low-budget horrors, that oftentimes have nothing more up their sleeves.
With that, you get a pretty consistent style of story-telling, which starts with an earthquake. With a running time of just a little more than 90 minutes, Underwater packaged most of the needed introduction in the opening credits, which had undeniably trimmed-down the overall length, and got straight down to business (read:isolation). The ‘real’ party doesn’t start after months of underwater booze-partying and countless bottles of champagne as what the trailer might suggests, so there’s a respectable sense of seriousness in there.
Once the crisis starts, Underwater roamed freely within its natural habitat, oftentimes with strong direction towards the themes which it was trying to produce. Whether it’s claustrophobia, moral standing dilemma, selflessness or plain creepiness, there was always a certain theme at play as the story propelled forward and sucked in attention like a whirlpool.
Awkwardly, there was one constant behavior of the plot which could have worked against the story, but threaded the scenes together instead. There’s something very nonchalant about Underwater which constantly nagged me from time to time, in the sense that it refused to explain about the creatures that the crew were facing. I am so used to characters giving me complete tutorials about the creatures and situation that they are facing in similar films, that I needed some time getting used to how Underwater works. It is a routine that I regularly expect, though some are inherently bad, like “Oh, it’s a Megalodon.”
The nonchalance of the narrative and the crew of Keppler-822, however, coats the film with layers of goodness akin to nectar. It’s raw, unprocessed, and direct. And at the same time, it sweetens the deal.
Take T.J. Miller’s character for example. His presence doesn’t exhibit any intention from to turn Underwater into comedy. But rather, he’s just a naturally funny guy caught in a sad situation, possibly similar to many people in actual life. The plot and crew soldiered on without getting too artificially curious about those creatures, because presumably, when their lifelines and air supplies are ticking away, the scientific name and origin of those creepy creatures become less of a priority. And it’s pretty cool that way.
Speaking about air supplies and underwater suits, and again, it could be clearly observed that Underwater went all-out to attain its sci-fi flavor. Those are easily the most flaunting deep-water diving suits that I’ve seen on the big screen for years, and I won’t blame anyone for mistaking them with space suits. A lot of thoughts had certainly been put into the design, though I felt that the way the crew moved freely in them, and rather quickly, had taken away some sense of realism, and worked against the physics of the suits. If a suit can hypothetically protect you at the depth of the Mariana Trench, isn’t it supposed to be made of metal?
And now, we have arrived at, to the most anticipated part: how do the deep-sea creatures in Underwater fare? Good? Just okay? or stupid? Without resorting to spoilers, I can only say that the overall design and mechanics of those ghastly creatures are unique and memorable. The great CGI definitely pushed the overall immersion when the crew of Kepler-822 bumps into them (or into any CGI drilling stations, so to speak), and I really like the infused surprises towards the end. And I mean, a lot. To me, it’s the twist in the final act that had catapulted the Underwater experience from ‘pretty good’ to ‘wow’.
It’s not just the suit and creature design that worked great. There’s something about Kristen Stewart that coupled exceptionally well with Underwater. It might be her rebellious, blonde buzz-cut that exuded some boyish charm, but at the same time didn’t shy her away from being gorgeous. Or it might be Stewart’s believable performance as a station engineer who has the technical capabilities to do just about anything, but is mentally vulnerable at the same time.
There’s certainly a hint of Ellen Ripley in her character, though Ripley certainly didn’t run around in just her inner-wear like Stewart’s character did. Had Eubank substituted Stewart with any male actor, all magic would have been lost, and the flavor of Underwater would have been entirely different.
Of course, just like many other movies of the similar genre, if you stretch your thoughts far enough, a lot of scenes will come back to you as not making any sense. Also, there were one or two scenes in the middle of Underwater which I had felt unnecessary, or unnecessarily messy. But as a whole, Underwater definitely punched above its weight, or in this case, it let me dive deeper into the film than what I had expected.
On the surface, Underwater might be brushed off as just another budget-deprived horror film if you peep into the trailer alone. As such, I was plenty amazed at how Underwater managed to swim from scene to scene with sufficient navigation to pull-off a variety of tricks up its sleeve, all without employing cheap(er) tactics. Kristen Stewart’s presence, ‘nasty’ creature design, and a few distinctive treatment given to the plot have buoyed Underwater above its peers. The movie is clearly trying to build towards that finale that Eubank had always envisioned, in which, will certainly please sci-fi lovers—The Film Addict