Underwater (2020) Directed by William Eubanks. After a deadly earthquake 7 miles beneath the surface of the sea, the crew of an underwater oil rig fights to survive against a horde of terrifying aquatic creatures.
Five miles beneath the churning surface of the Pacific Ocean, the Tian Corporation’s Kepler 822 Station is suspended above a 2 mile long hydraulic oil drill called The Roebuck. The resident research staff of the Kepler are there to monitor changes to the sea life and environment as the drill does its work.
In one of the station’s steely and impersonal chambers, we first meet mechanical engineer Norah Price (Kristen Stewart). Her job entails keeping the computer systems and various pieces of communication equipment up and running, and she proves quite capable throughout. After it is established that Norah is somewhat haunted by the eerie dislocation of undersea life, which has no separation between day or night, we are treated to a sudden impact that crushes 70 % of the Kepler in seconds. Some of Price’s crew mates are instantly obliterated by the pressure as the structure cracks and folds.
In the aftermath, Norah helps dig survivors from the rubble. There’s frightened biologist Emily (Iron Fist’s Jessica Henwick), her taciturn boyfriend Liam, wisecracking Paul (Deadpool’s T.J. Miller) and compassionate Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel). After uniting, the Captain reveals that he ejected several other survivors via every available escape pod. In order to access a fresh set of pods, the crew will have to take an industrial elevator ride 2 miles down and cross a mile long expanse of ocean floor to enter The Roebuck’s command center. To accomplish this, they must don bulky mechanical suits designed to survive the pressure.
Once on the ocean floor, an accidental helmet malfunction kills a crew member in epic fashion. Liam and Paul take a scouting trip out into the depths and discover the shattered remains of one of the Kepler’s previously deployed escape pods. Inside, a dead man gives birth to a bizarre creature that attacks Paul. Liam captures it, and the two men bring it to Emily. It turns out to be an undiscovered species, which resembles a pinkish worm-like squid. As the crew gazes down in wonder and disgust at the beast, they hear an unholy shriek reverberating through the water as adult versions of the species swarm in for the kill.
And that’s basically the gist of it. It’s pure aquatic survival horror with large monsters snatching away our heroes as they cross the dark mile between the elevator and the Roebuck.
A film like this, one devoid of clever subtext or political ideologies and designed solely to thrill, is a rarity these days. The cast is solid, the stakes are dire and the climax actually makes thematic sense. “Underwater” is a fun and welcome throwback to the terrors of “Deepstar Six” and “Leviathan.”
I’m not a fan of Stewart as an actress, which makes me her most honest critic. She’s quite good here, as a woman who is both compassionate and capable. There’s no phoning it in. She’s driven by a traumatic event in her past that shapes the ultimate decision she makes towards the end. And most importantly, she bucks the recent trend that makes heroines totally invincible. She’s skilled, and her skills are illustrated in believable scenarios, but she’s not throwing monsters around or prepared for every eventuality. She’s human.
Several negative reviews have blasted the film for being too derivative because it involves a group of stranded humans pitted against an unnatural threat. Sure, Howard Hawks’s 1954 “The Thing”, John Carpenter’s 1982 remake, Ridley Scott’s “Alien” and all its sequels tread similar territory. My answer to these critics is that there have been dozens of films built around “Dracula,” and most of them share the common plot characteristics we associate with the legendary vampire. Should we stop making all vampire films because several notable and celebrated examples exist? Of course not. There’s always room for more in the pantheon of creature features, and “Underwater” is certainly slick and stylish enough to earn its place.