Date Posted: 14/3/22
The trailer makes this film look like Aliens underwater rather than Aliens in space or on a planet, it is billed as a horror and stars Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel with Jessica Henwick and T.J. Miller. The film was released in 2020 and was directed by William Eubank.
I like a good tense survival movie, and if there is a horror element too, then so much the better. The likes of Alien and The Abyss are master classes in how to create a claustrophobic atmosphere in which the tension can be cut with a knife. Setting something in space or deep underwater is the perfect location for such a film because there is no escape outside, if a person leaves the ship or station they are in then they stand just as much chance of survival outside as a goldfish in a meat grinder. I was really hoping that Underwater would be such a film. But the question is: was it? Lets take a look...
So the film opens with a montage of clippings and newspaper articles talking about problems during the construction of a deep sea drilling platform at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. [If you don’t know the Mariana Trench is the deepest trench in the ocean. The sea floor is approximately 7 miles below the surface]. We then see our main character Norah Price (Stewart) cleaning her teeth in one of the Kepler 822’s bathrooms. Without warning a massive earthquake tears through the building, breaching the walls and allowing a few hundred billion tonnes of water to come racing into the structure. Norah runs into a couple of her colleagues who survived the initial quake, and realise that they are going to have to make it to the evacuation pods to escape the collapsing facility.
The three discover the captain of the facility who has remained behind to eject numerous escape pods of fellow survivors to the surface. By the time Norah and co arrive there are no more pods, so they make the decision to descend to the ocean floor and walk across it to get to the nearby Roebuck station which should contain enough pods for them all to safely evacuate.
The team assemble but as they begin the journey, they start to realise that there is something lurking in the dark waters around them...
Do you want to know what I am really bored of? Rhetorical question, obviously...I am bored of monsters that stalk people from the darkness. When Alien did it, it was ground breaking, and terrifying. Since then so many films in which monsters lurk in the darkness ready to snatch survivors like after eight mints at a fancy dinner that the idea has become tired and dull. One of the things that made The Abyss such a good film was the fact that the biggest monster was a man suffering a psychotic breakdown due to the mental stress of being at depth. The alien element was a fixation of his paranoia but it was just a guy going insane and viewing everyone around him with suspicion leading him to violent acts against them. In Underwater there are just an unknown species of humanoid-ish fish monsters that are targeting and killing the survivors. That’s it. The survivors themselves stay level headed about the whole thing. But where did the creatures come from? Naturally a thermal pocket the drill breached whilst digging, which is where the Megalodon was hiding in The Meg, or where the monster was in Deep Star Six. There is always some unknown cavern in which these huge creatures have existed for millions of years that are breached somehow allowing said creature or creatures to escape.
I guess this is less important if the creatures are interesting, and here there really aren’t. Most of the time they are kept in the darkness but when they are revealed they look like a cross between a person and a stingray. There is also no explanation given for why they would be attacking the survivors of the drilling station. I remember reading in the original Jurassic Park novel by Michael Crichton that animals are not naturally man-eaters, something needs to happen to change their behaviour to the point where they realise that humans are a viable food source. But even if you assume that an animal would go for a human just for the hell of it, a human wandering around in jeans and t-shirt is a much easier target than one in a deep sea diving suit that has been designed to withstand hundreds of tonnes of pressure per square inch. The suits themselves breach when a monster so much as brushes past them so there is no point getting attached to any one because they drop like flies. Plus most of them are trying to have the usual, who can have the noblest death competition anyway, so best not to bother to learn their names beyond the generic labels. You know what I mean, the funny guy, the hot chick, the scientist lady, the old leader guy and so on
The monsters themselves have a big boss and when the creature is revealed I was just chuckling to myself, because yeah sure, why not? The creature is Cthulhu. If you don’t know Cthulhu was created by H. P Lovecraft and is an ancient god-like being. Now I am not that informed on the full Cthulhu mythos, but I think that the horror of Cthulhu is that he is an ancient being that existed long before humanity did, and will be around long after humans die off. In 1928 when Lovecraft created the monster the horror wasn’t about something that would decimate humans, it was more about the fact that Cthulhu does not care about humanity and is simply waiting for humans to perish. That may not seem scary these days but in 1928 the horror of something that would just outlast humans due to its indifference to them was more frightening than something that was going to actively wipe out humans. I may be way off but from the bits and pieces of information I have seen over the years that is what I understand Cthulhu to be. In Underwater it is implied that the company behind the drilling platform may have been actively searching for Cthulhu, but the question of why, remains unanswered.
This is a film in which you need to pay attention to the background text happening during the opening credits because it is during this time that the director actually starts to try and build the tension. There a brief glimpses of reports of strange creatures near the building site, workers claim they saw things in the water, so hopefully you are reading these snippets of text because if you are not then you are going to have no idea what is going on. These initial sightings didn’t lead to the project being abandoned or security measures being added or anything. Nope the company behind the construction of this no doubt incredibly expensive drilling rig are happy to just plough on regardless of the risk to their facility and staff.
Tian Industries, the company behind the drilling platform, have the ethics of Umbrella from Resident Evil, or Weyland-Yutani from the Alien franchise, they are basically one of those corporations that burn piles of money in front of hungry orphans because they are just all soullessly evil people. They don’t care about the lives of staff members or the cost involved in losing billion dollar assets as long as they get something they can turn into a weapon.
Do they have a plan to capture Cthulhu or his/her/its offspring, no of course not. So what was the point of actively searching, you ask. The film doesn’t think it is necessary to tell you, perhaps they just wanted to find him for the sake of it. It doesn’t matter that makes no sense just don’t worry about it.
It is a shame because I think that the premise for a tense, survival film set at the bottom of the ocean after a facility is damaged by an earthquake has so much potential. There doesn’t need to be an enemy beyond the collapsing facility itself. Just imagine what it would be like to have people cracking under the pressure of a station falling apart, water rushing in, breaching flood barriers and the horror of the situation itself being what keeps the atmosphere at breaking point. Sadly Underwater is not that film, and any tension of the collapsing facility quickly gives way to the usual tired jump scares with bloodthirsty monsters.
Underwater is not a bad film, it is just nothing that we haven’t seen before. There are better examples of tense survival films out there, like the previously mentioned Alien and The Abyss, and there are worst examples like Leviathan or Deep Star Six. As long as the film is free on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and you have a greater level of knowledge of the Cthulhu mythos than I do then it might be interesting to see the titular monster on screen, for everyone else though, missing this film is not going to haunt you to your dying day.
I didn’t hate the film, nor did I love it. It was alright, it passed the time, and that is something I seem to be saying a lot at the moment. I will leave my Thumb Horizontal because if you have a spare hour and a half there are worse ways to pass the time but otherwise do yourself a favour and go and watch the far superior films I have mentioned above.
5/10 – The potential for a great film about a collapsing deep sea facility after an earthquake shoots straight past the director who instead focuses on cheap scares, laughable monsters, and an ancient-god that is so powerful it manages to growl underwater despite no air resonating on its vocal cords