“Underwater” review by Nate Blake

Underwater is a sopping wet Alien rip-off with characters that are lifeless long before they are chomped on or blown to bits. The plot, which is full of developments but none that have any impact, guides the entire story. This is a script that is so full of dialogue focused on evacuation pods, door locks and cores that it all might as well be spoken by robots. The performances don’t help either, but you can’t blame the cast too much, because they were given little to work with.

Before I come off as a complete snob (maybe its too late), I love a good B movie. I loved Crawl last year. It was a straightforward creature feature that was coherently shot and did just enough with character that I gave a shit. Underwater is the opposite of Crawl. I realized within five minutes that this experience was going to be awful. After the opening titles sequence and Kristen Stewart narrating over a scene where her character, Norah, rescues a bug from a sink in a station at the bottom of the ocean floor, things go bad for everyone on board. An earthquake occurs, flooding sections of the station and killing several employees. Norah survives, along with several other people, and they set out to rescue others before realizing that the earthquake has unleashed some alien-like creatures from below.

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It’s right after the initial disaster that the script hits its first big snag. What it trips up on is the classic dilemma of whether to be a bad Alien rip-off or the T.J. Miller comedy special. After his character, named Paul, is rescued by Norah, he utters the line “You sweet flat-chested elfin creature.” Now, I did not enjoy this movie. But I must confess, the lameness of that joke matched with how fitting it was coming out of T.J. Miller’s mouth gave me immense joy. Unfortunately, the rest of Miller’s routine consisted of long outdated movie references (“this is some 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea shit”) and some commentary on the effect this scary situation will have on his colon. Paul has bitchin’ belly and chest tattoos though, which we are treated to a close up of, along with the hole-filled underwear barely covering his ass.

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It’s Miller time, god help us

I laughed at a lot of other attempts at humor and characterization too. Jessica Henwick plays a character named Emily (I’m using the word character in place of job titles because the film never really explains what these people do). and we know little about her life until she says the following: “Do any of you have dogs? I have a Corgi…I never thought I’d miss her this much.” How can we as the audience not bond with a character who loves Corgi’s? Everyone loves Corgi’s! It’s so cheap, and it becomes even more ridiculous later on when another conversation about Corgi’s segues into Norah talking about a person she lost.

You might be thinking, but Nate, this is an action/horror movie. Even for a good B movie, aren’t you focusing too much on dialogue and characters? Aren’t there just a lot of great scenes of people being eaten and things blowing up? The answer is no. All but one of the action scenes in this film are so incoherently shot, scored, and lit that it’s just a noisy mess. The undersea suits everyone wears make it difficult to know which characters are being chased or eaten and which ones are kicking ass. The craftsmanship is terrible. I will admit there is one sequence about an hour in that works. Everyone is outside of the undersea rig and the creature is pursuing people. This scene is pretty well shot and even a little scary. Everything else though is either so badly shot you can’t tell what is going on, or visible enough to reveal that what is going on is practically copy and pasted from Alien.  

I’m so thrilled that January is only half over. This is going to be a long month.

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