Underwater (2020)

“You lose your sense of time in the dark.”

Practically lifeless, lit by the despair of isolating desolation, and set in the deepest trenches of Earth’s most terrifying and unexplored terrestrial arena, Underwater brings nothing new or energizing to this predictable monster mash. So while the picture offers up a critique of the many cover-ups of the capitalistic powers at be – coming at the cost of those below the surface (and thus most easily hidden) – Underwater rarely ever registers anything on the Richter scale that’s worth a second look via a sonar scan, nor does it introduce us to a crew of characters we feel compelled to care about. “Abandon Ship” would’ve been a more appropriate tagline.

7 miles below deck, as she ruminates while brushing her teeth and double takes at the strangely flickering lights of the halls in the cavernous hull, the engineer Norah (Kristen Stewart) appears wary. She even relocates a spider from the sink off to the side because it shouldn’t be there. Something is amiss. Such heavy-handed foreshadowing – which is intentional and eventually pays sufficient dividends in the long run – is not adequate enough to sustain and maintain the pressure piling on from the outside in on this lame duck of a picture. It’s all force with little heed.

On the production side, Underwater is a successful dunk tank of a thrill ride with the expected jump scares. The visual design (as well as the story), directly pulls inspiration from the likes of Alien and The Abyss, and yet director William Eubank’s latest mostly resembles 1989’s Leviathan without that era’s proclivity for shocking, corny, self-evaluative body horror. Instead, Underwater presents itself more as an all too expensive ode to the hokey, sci-fi action flicks of the 90’s. Thankfully though, it wastes no time during its opening sequence, forcing a life or death decision, and in that aspect it’s most evocative of the remorseful set pieces from Cliffhanger and Backdraft sunken leagues under the sea. The biggest issue is that, like the crew members, we cannot see what’s going on. Movies are like books, in that they’re a whole lot harder to read in the dark, and Underwater desperately needed a flashlight or a flare at its ready. It’s impossible to care when you have no idea what’s happening.

What I modestly admired about Underwater is that the film literally wastes no time in going from 0 to 60. So many pictures tease us, only to tap the brakes to introduce us to side stories that are as memorable as house side salads. We crave the entree and Eubank’s picture gets right to the heart of the main course. However, in this case it’s the biggest indicator that this film – a schlocky B movie with an over-inflated budget of $80 million – lacks the kind of artistry required to deliver a picture told in three acts. There’s no setup. The entree lacks personality. Dessert is missing altogether. Underwater has features excellent practical sets and a few occasional cues for humor, but overall this one isn’t worth saving. I cannot blame Disney – releasing this on behalf of their newly acquired Fox some three years after it was finished – for casting this unwanted bait out into the weeds, weighted so heavily that the hook rests on the floor. Bottom feeders will eat to their fill. That’s where it belongs.

“Let’s light this shit up.”

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

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