Jacob Richardson | 23/01/2019
Messy and unkempt, this underwater thriller mixes flashes of brilliance with broadly ineffective storytelling for a distinctly mixed, but never unenjoyable, time at the cinema.
Norah (Kristen Stewart) is a mechanical engineer on a research and mining laboratory deep underwater on the bottom (and past) of the ocean floor. When an earthquake devastates her underwater habitation, she, along with the Captain (Vincent Cassel), distinctly odd Paul (TJ Miller), Smith (John Gallagher Jr) and Emily (Jessica Henwick) must make their way across the ocean floor to an undamaged vessel to return them to the surface. Alas, on the way they will have to not only survive the ocean seabed, but potentially something much deeper and darker.
The first thing about Underwater that you need to understand is that it makes patently no sense. Told entirely from the point of view of this crew, the film never endeavours to explain its increasingly fantastical series of events or world building antics; rather, revelling in the unknowability of it all for our rag tag group of survivors. That makes things undeniably confusing. Not only that, but the visuals of this piece are frequently choppy, dense and almost go-pro style POV, which makes scenes where the survivors are walking along the seabed in the darkness, or fighting monsters, particularly difficult to engage with.
The cynic could say that this film is designed to be appealing to a very specific demographic. Things like the eventual monster reveal, the way the scenery is lit, the ‘requirement’ for the underwater suits that clothing not be worn, meaning a large amount of screentime for an underwear clad Kristen Stewart, and the presence of TJ Miller. All provide a somewhat distasteful undercurrent.
Yet nevertheless, there is a lot here to like, and frequently it is the stuff easy to pick out as bad that also doubles as some of the best stuff in the film. Kristen Stewart is undeniably compelling, and a powerful female heroine. TJ Miller, despite the rumours and validated reports surrounding him, once again proves how hilarious he is in this comic relief role. Visually there is just as much to like as there is to dislike.
Underwater, then, is a film constantly at war with itself. There are jump scares galore, and an intriguing premise that is never fully explored, giving enough information to the viewer without ever digging into exposition territory. With a tight 1 hr 35 minute runtime, a heroine you can 100% get behind, and an increasingly ridiculous but engaging plot, Underwater never feels overly long or sluggish.
Underwater, anchored by another engaging Kristen Stewart performance, battles of range of terrible choices to deliver a perfectly watchable and enjoyable thriller.