There’s not a lick of William Eubank’s Underwater that hasn’t been borrowed or stolen from any number of movies that have come before it. It’s Alien at the bottom of the ocean, DeepStar Six with an evil corporation, and The Abyss as a horror film. It’s Godzilla (any of them) meets Leviathan, and Pacific Rim mashed up with Apollo 18. Despite being so heinously derivative, though, Underwater still manages to squeak by and actually deliver some decent thrills as a sci-fi horror flick—due primarily to its above-average cast, led by Kristen Stewart and Vincent Cassel, and also to Bojan Bazelli’s in-your-face cinematography that ramps up the tension higher than it has any right to be.
The simple set-up finds the evil Tian Industries (has there ever been an un-evil corporation?) drilling at the Mariana Trench when all of a sudden things head south quickly. All we hear is a loud thunk, and suddenly engineer Norah Price (Stewart) is running for her life in a deep-sea research station six miles down after it springs a leak and starts imploding. Everyone scrambles to get on the right side of watertight doors, and when the dust settles, only six people are still alive.
They’re cut off from the world, though, since the communications antenna broke (because of course it did), and there’s no way to return to the surface since the escape pods are broken, too (because of course they are). Adding to the frustration is the fact that one of the survivors is Paul (T.J. Miller), an insufferable manchild who can’t go eight seconds without a flippant remark or a puerile joke.
It doesn’t take long to discover that the cause of all the commotion is something not of this Earth (or from the deep inside the Earth—it’s never really made clear). And since we’re in the depths of the pitch-black ocean, there’s plenty of opportunities for the things to jump out of the dark and scare the ever-living bejeezus out of Norah and her colleagues… and, naturally, start to pick them off one-by-one.
Eubank, working on his first big-budget film, takes advantage of the extra resources and creates an ultimately believable look at life (and grisly death) at the bottom of the sea. On the purely “escapist movie” front, Underwater delivers, thanks to solid production design and more than a handful of snazzy visual effects.
Where it falls way short, though, is, of course, the story, which does absolutely nothing to further the genre. Even the decision by screenwriters Adam Cozad and Brian Duffield to wrap the whole thing up with a ribbon of social consciousness about the evils of drilling ends up ringing hollow. If you’re looking for a game-changer, this isn’t it, but anyone longing for that elusive mashup of Deep Blue Sea, The Poseidon Adventure, and The Meg will have a decent swim Underwater.