From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“A crew of oceanic researchers working for a deep-sea drilling company try to get to safety after a mysterious earthquake devastates their deepwater research and drilling facility located at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.”
I have a vague recollection of seeing some of the advertisements for Underwater – as well as reading a few reviews – during the Age Of Covid. From what I can recall, the picture scored some minor praise from industry types, though I can’t imagine it churned up a whole lot of business given the circumstances of the Great Plague. Now that I’ve had the chance to take it in via a pay cable screening of it, I’m honestly a bit surprised that it’s earned so much love from folks in online genre communities; but – then again – I’m an ‘old dog’ who’s seen a whole lot of similar pictures so maybe sorta it wasn’t quite meant for me. Yes, it’s been done before, and it’s been done vastly better.
In fact, I have a suspicion that producers likely cast actress Kristen Stewart as the project’s unconvincing lead in hopes that her appeal with younger audiences – stemming from her tenure in the Twilight franchise – might have specifically translated into bigger box office receipts. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and – to a certain degree – that very may be the project’s sole saving grace as so much in here is pretty forgettable. Stewart certainly does what she can with this heavily water-logged production, though not even her street cred can bring this sinker to the surface for more than a single viewing.
The script is credited to Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad.
While I was one of the few I know of who enjoyed Cozad’s work on The Legend Of Tarzan (2016), that property certainly suffered through poor-to-middling reviews and failed to deliver on its blockbuster potential. Duffield – on the other hand – is a name I recognized: a quick review of his IMDB.com profile shows him attached to two other flicks that arguably enjoyed more positive buzz. Spontaneous (2020) and Love And Monsters (2020) had many more sparks of life than did Underwater, and – dare I say? – they even had their respective bits of freshness to genre ideas that had been tinkered with before. But, alas, Duffield brought no significant energy to this deepwater thriller, instead piling on trope after trope – cliché after cliché – in a never-ending assault on the audience’s senses.
Essentially, Underwater is textually similar to Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) along with affectionate nods to such other similarly set oceanic adventures like The Abyss (1989), Leviathan (1989), and DeepStar Six (1989). However, IMDB.com’s synopsis for Underwater even fails to mention that there’s a monster in this picture – let me assure you that there is one, and it’s a doozy – so perhaps the marketing for this whole affair failed to make that connection upon its original release? Rather than depict a straight story of a trapped crew’s attempts to survive, this one creates a whole new species in the deep, though there’s really little to no information about where they may’ve come from and/or whether they’re somehow tied to these deep-drilling efforts. In fact, this script really gives viewers little to rely on. It’s a shame they couldn’t spare so much as a theory here or there.
Unlike the other films Underwater kinda/sorta copies, this crew is given perhaps the thinnest backstories of record. We’re given – quite plainly – no time to get to know them whatsoever as the cataclysmic event that puts them on the run takes place only moments after the opening credits have rolled. All of a sudden, it’s one explosion after another – one structural collapse piled on something similar – and they’re high-tailing it from one deep sea installation to the next. Stewart occasionally looks tired – a big no-no when you’re the lead – and the best co-star T.J. Miller can do is try to recreate the snarky panic most noticeably owed to a young Bill Paxton in James Cameron’s Aliens (1986). Must everything be derivative these days?
Now, I don’t normally do this as I’ve given you a spoiler warning above but for those of you who truly DO NOT WISH TO HAVE THE PLOT SPOILED, this is your last notice as what I discuss next is rather significant.
So … you’ve been suitably warned.
Here it is:
When it comes to telling any story, I’ve always believed that writers need to be as free from rules as is humanly (and humanely) possible. Storytellers really need to be free to use whatever tools they have at their disposal whenever and however they like, but – even then – the medium of film does have some requirements – some cardinal sins – that should never be broken unless you have some incredible stylistic reason.
For example, one-time auteur Emilio Estevez actually kinda/sorta tanked a somewhat promising career as a writer/director – believe it or not. In 1986, he largely brought that potential to a screeching halt with the release of his film Wisdom. In it, he played John Wisdom, a modern-day Robin Hood who turns to a life of crime in order to help ailing farmers across the fruited plains. I won’t go into any major discussion of the plot, mostly because that doesn’t matter here, but I will say Estevez penned his script with Wisdom serving as the narrator for the audience. Structurally, that’s all well and good … but even after the character dies in the conclusion Wisdom is shown very much alive – on screen – narrating his death for the audience. Needless to say, critics were flummoxed. Erm … aren’t you dead? If so, then how can you be here, telling us this story? It caused a huge narrative break, and the picture – along with Estevez’s career – suffered the fallout.
Sadly, Duffield and Cozad have done the same in Underwater.
The picture is narrated from start to finish by Stewart’s character. Even though we see her demise in the closing moments, there she is – the omniscient and omnipotent narrator – still detailing for us who she is, what she did, and what her fate would be. It’s more than a bit silly, and – frankly – it sank whatever good will the flick likely earned with its frenetic pacing and excellent production work.
Bad choice, boys. And – even worse? It could’ve been fixed in post.
Underwater (2020) was produced by Chernin Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, and 20th Century Fox.
Functionally, there’s not a lot wrong with Underwater (2020). It’s a reasonably well-made monster movie with solid effects work, fabulous production details, and an impressive cast, all set in a workable race-against-time to save themselves from multiple scenarios before the big finish. However, we’ve seen the formula for Underwater done many, many, many times before – with much better results – leaving me kinda/sorta tired with its paint-by-number characters, supremely predictable plot turns, and – ahem – watered-down premise.