Underwater

 

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A crew of engineers finds nothing but cliché on the ocean bed in this derivative, water-logged frightfest.

 

Underwater

Deep thoughts: Kristen Stewart

 

And Kristen Stewart was on such a roll. After her comic, playful turn in Charlie's Angels and her touching, tragic Seberg, KStew seemed ready to take on anything. But a water-logged Alien? If one’s going to improve on James Cameron’s genre-busting The Abyss of 31 years ago, one’s going to need an impressive ace up one’s sleeve. Unfortunately, here the director William Eubank brings nothing new to the ocean bed, except for a mild feminist sensibility. Think Ellen Ripley in Alien – but that was 41 years ago.

 

The set-up of this film – in water no one can hear you scream – is largely the same, including two women on the crew and one token black man. What’s missing is the human dynamic. The start, though, is terrific. As a raft of data flashes across the opening credits, the camera plunges down and down and down towards the bottom of the Mariana Trench, following the core well of a multi-billion mining facility. It’s like the start of Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs, when the undercarriage of a passing spaceship just doesn’t seem to end. We then find ourselves in a honeycomb of corridors and encounter Nora Price (KStew), a mechanical engineer contemplating her lot. She tells us that she can no longer tell the difference between day and night. She is either awake or dreaming, with random moments replacing the very linear concept of time. She is our guide, a lean, capable figure, still sporting her Jean Seberg short-back-and-sides. Then the rig springs a leak…

 

From here on the format remains the same. An assortment of scientific and engineering boffins find themselves relying on each other for survival. Put simply – a leak six miles below sea level can be problematic. Thus, issues of peer pressure are swiftly supplanted by water pressure, an occupational hazard of mucking around in the Mariana Trench. But the survivors – of, what, an earthquake? – have more than imploding decompression chambers to worry about. Unexplained anomalies are on the menu and anybody familiar with Jules Verne – or James Cameron – can expect the worst. Without giving too much away, what we get here is a tsunami of cliché with the usual jump scares and that rasping gurgle of an unseen life form. Underwater shan’t be winning any Oscars for sound design, and the juicy jargon can only retain an element of conviction for so long.

 

The best special effect in the film is the face of Kristen Stewart. It says so, so much more than all those millions ploughed into the CGI.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr, Mamoudou Athie, T.J. Miller.

 

Dir William Eubank, Pro Peter Chernin, Tonia Davis and Jenno Topping, Screenplay Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad, Ph Bojan Bazelli, Pro Des Naaman Marshall, Ed Todd E. Miller, Brian Berdan and William Hoy, Music Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts, Costumes Dorotka Sapinska.

 

Chernin Entertainment-20th Century Fox.

94 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 7 February 2020. Cert. 15.