In this overly complicated workaday world of ours, I appreciate the simplicity of William Eubank's 2020 monster flick Underwater. Underwater has no lofty goals. It's only here to show you a good time. Thank you, Underwater! And thank you to the one person who voted it a favorite in 2020, because you got me to finally sit down and watch this.
It is the kind of movie that features a bunch of newspaper headlines over the opening credits to give you the whole setup and backstory in about 30 seconds.
It is the kind of movie that will also feature a bunch of newspaper headlines over the closing credits to give you a nice wrap-up in about 30 seconds.
It is also the kind of movie that has our lead character Norah (Kristen Stewart) provide monologues to start and end the film, monologues that aim to provide some sort of "universal truths" (being underwater might drive you crazy, sometimes you have to stop feeling and start doing), but they're really just nonsense that have no bearing on anything. It doesn't matter. The action kicks in about two minutes into Underwater and it doesn't let up for the rest of the runtime--a runtime, might I add, which is blessedly only 95 minutes. In an age where the simplest slasher movies are bloated to a length that even Irwin Allen wouldn't dare, a movie clocking in at an hour and a half feels positively transgressive.
The underwater station explodes, taking out the escape pods. Norah and a handful of survivors have to descend further down and walk across a plateau to another station in the hopes that there are functioning escape pods over there. They encounter a monster, and then a bigger monster, and then...well, it's like a monster matryoshka doll down there. The end.
Really, that's it! Again, it doesn't matter. The survivors are, like, Norah, the grizzled captain, the clown, the new girl, and headband. We get the occasional random tidbit about them (oh, those two who haven't really spoken to each other are in love...? okay), but we're not going to care about any of these people, and that's a-okay. Vincent Cassel is there to class up the joint, and Kristen Stewart is...perfectly serviceable. Look, she's not a bad actress! She simply has a rather narrow range. When a role falls into that range, she's fantastic (see: Personal Shopper, Certain Women, Clouds of Sils Maria). Of course, no one has much to do here beyond "be scared" or "be determined," so it's fine.
After all, Underwater is the kind of movie where the core meltdown of an elaborate, multibillion dollar drilling installation is triggered by dragging a circle from the bottom of a touchscreen to the top and then tapping the space bar on a keyboard.
It's all a throwback to creature features of yore, the ones sprinkled throughout the late 80s, late 90s, and even early 2000s. Be they under the water or outer the space, they all centered on a small number of people--including at least one or two A-list stars--in a fancy, hi-tech place facing off against some kind of monster. I mean, if you'd told me that Underwater came out in 1998, I would say "Oh, really?"
It's truly a bummer, though, that this movie that's nearly all action to have a sizable chunk of that action rendered incomprehensible by dodgy cinematography and editing. I get it, there's no light miles under water! There's gonna be murk! But man, it was difficult to get any kind of spatial bearing or figure out what was going on a lot of the time when our characters were outside the station. There's a slight chance that was purposeful, you know, to make us feel what the characters were feeling? To disorient us? Maybe it was to mask lousy CGI? Regardless of the reasoning, it makes for a lousy viewing experience.
But aside from multiple instances of having no idea what I was looking at, Underwater was the good time it wanted to be. Put away your science calculators, get out your popcorn, and watch a bunch of people run away from...something. I couldn't make it out, really. But it was fun!