Happy New Year to one and all. Each January brings a fresh start to your resolutions and the excitement of another year to come. January at the movie theater is a bit different as it’s been known as the dumping ground for titles that studios don’t have much confidence in. “The Grudge” reboot coming out last week seemed to only solidify that notion, because it wasn’t very good. This week brings the creature-feature “Underwater” starring Kristen Stewart and Vincent Cassel, directed by William Eubank. So, let’s get into it and see if this movie continues that January trend or is successful in bringing some entertainment to the big-screen.
This story centers on an underwater research team that must struggle to survive when an earthquake devastates their subterranean laboratory. The water is coming. The walls are closing in on them as well, and this group of researchers will have to contend with something much deadlier out on the ocean floor that they never could have imagined. That may sound simple to you and that’s because it is. This isn’t a movie trying to break the formula. It isn’t trying to be an epic like “Interstellar” underwater. It aims to create tension and uneasiness through 90-minutes of aquatic chaos, and it succeeds in doing so.
Critics more than likely won’t praise this movie. But for casual movie fans and for those who enjoy this sub-genre this one was a delight. Some critics never let a movie get in the way of their criticism. Some critics never let their criticism get in the way of their enjoyment of a film. So, let’s look at this one in two ways given I’m much prouder of being a movie geek, than I am of being a film critic. From a critical approach the issues with this movie are easy to see. Starting with the story itself. It’s a bit by the numbers as far as its progression. The characters aren’t very developed, if at all depending on your definition of developed.
The relationships between the crew and the banter between them has all been done before as well. It keeps a fast pace, but it does come at the cost of substance being infused into the story layers. As soon as this one starts it’s feeding explosion and backdrop through headline clippings playing over the opening credits. So, it was immediately clear the pacing was going to be swift. It isn’t a story that tries to build much of an emotional connection to the characters but surprisingly it didn’t hinder the suspense. You care about them enough to have curiosity in where the story will take them, yet you don’t really care who lives.
Another critic complaint I can see coming from this movie other than the overall lack of plot originality, will be with some of the visuals. Now I won’t get much into spoilers as to save the surprise of events for you. But I can see where there will be some issues taken with the look of many sequences out on the sea floor. It’s a bit murky, things look cloudy, and it isn’t easy to make things out at times. It’s missing that vivid clarity many are used to, but at the same time I actually enjoyed the visual aesthetic as it felt realistic and effectively brought me down there with the characters to see things as they saw them. With visibility at a minimum there was a constant looming tension from the darkness that I enjoyed.
Now as a movie-geek going into this one I would say it delivered what I expected. Sure, the story has its conveniences and lack of originality. I wasn’t expecting a deep dive into the story as much as I was a deep dive into the suspense. The story has its conveniences. The technology sort of works to move the narrative where it needs to. But the suspension of disbelief isn’t so high you can’t accept it at face value to enjoy the movie. It starts out fast and pulls you right into the fight for survival and with capable performances the anxiety of the situations kept me on edge.
You may not care too much about the characters, but they do have their own personalities that humanize them just enough to create interest in where things will go. They run into one hurdle after another and it’s surprisingly interesting to see how they will maneuver through things. And with some great practical sets the claustrophobia and fear from the characters does pour off the screen. It’s not breaking the mold, but it fits nicely into one and the result is a fun, capable, action-thriller. It doesn’t try to be over-the-top, yet it still manages to deliver some genuine spectacle once the monster element enters the mix and it was a good time.
I wanted an underwater monster movie with modern-day film-making techniques, and it delivered just that. Stewart was solid in the lead and surprisingly the comedic-relief from T.J. Miller worked as well to break the emotional tension in places. It won’t blow your mind, but it can lock in your attention and with a quick run-time it doesn’t wear out its welcome. It creates genuine uneasiness, has appealing visuals, and just enough styling behind the camera to give it some charisma. And if you love this small genre of movies then I recommend checking it out.