Whenever the question “space or ocean?” came up on the podcast Who Charted? (which was surprisingly frequently), one host fervently fought for the ocean thanks to his love of Jaws and disdain for space’s attempts to steal focus away from the equally mysterious sea. But F that. My answer was always neither, no thanks, but if I HAD to choose I’d go with space because it’s less likely that some terrifying creature would be outside my window watching me sleep. I’ve seen Deep Blue Sea and The Meg, I know what’s up! So screw the ocean, the deep down dark deep down is terrifying.
Basic Synopsis: A drilling station resting 6-7 miles below the ocean’s surface experiences catastrophic structural damage, forcing the remaining survivors to flee from threat of explosions, oceanic pressure, and unknown monsters. Kinda like an underwater Cloverfield, but this time TJ Miller is in front of the much steadier cam. Unfortunately.
First Things First: You’re telling me that the two characters who abandoned their dogs to go galavanting around the seafloor aren’t the monsters of this story, film?
Brief Thoughts: I’d barely finished my thought of how Kristen Stewart can probably pull off pretty much any hairstyle before silt hit the fan, the ocean tossing her character too and fro with glee as the station cracked into many poorly functioning, flooding pieces around her (insert slow mo shot of Stewart being pummeled #1). The film doesn’t keep at this escalated pace throughout the entirety of its runtime, but there’s little time to destress as the minorly fleshed out, yet still sympathetic handful of survivors (and T.J. Miller) try to withstand the literal and figurative mounting pressures of the terrors below. The claustrophobia of the tight crawl spaces, pressurized suits, and looming darkness is as ever present as the threat of the monsters often lurking just out of visual range. Everything about Underwater, from the shot composition, to the set design, the manipulation of shadow, and the gore is surprisingly beautiful at times, and I was relieved to realize that such a limited color palette never felt monotonous, as can often be the case for me.
Quick Question (Minor Spoiler): What would they have done had they found someone stranded in the rescue pod? They didn’t exactly bring an extra suit to protect the survivor from the overwhelming pressure at that depth.
Favorite Line: “There’s a comfort to cynicism. There’s a lot less to lose.” See? My pessimist is totally a helpful thing, MOM.
Biggest Complaint: There is a brief section before the climax where one of the characters finds his/herself alone that honestly feels like it was just there for a reveal to make one of the other characters more tragic. It’s a great detail, sure, but unfortunately this detour halts the momentum, when the more important aspects of resignation, loss, isolation and general psychological wear could’ve been accomplished in a way that kept the story pushing forward through the open void.
Creature Design: I was a bit worried in the early stages of the film when the initial sightings of the monsters revealed them to be amorphous, poorly defined humanoid blobs, but if Underwater wanted to play the generic monster dances on the shadow’s edge to keep the necessity for detail low game then so be it. Which is why I was genuinely shocked when we eventually did get a much better look at them and a certain trait that allowed for an amazing hero moment to start the go-big-or-go-home ending that honestly made the movie for me. It. Was. Glorious.
Let’s Talk About That Ending (Spoilers): I don’t actually have a lot more to say about the ending, I just really wanted to describe Underwater as H.P. Lovecraft’s Pacific Rim prequel and had no way to do so without ruining the massive end reveal.
Final Thoughts: I suddenly find myself wondering if I would have enjoyed Aquaman much more had it been a horror film. Bring on the Trench!
So what’d you think of Underwater? If you like the general premise then be sure to check out Nick Cutter’s novel The Deep for another take on the horrors that lie in the deep, both psychological and monstrous. You can come back and tell me all about your thoughts here or on twitter; find me at BewareOfTrees.