Deep inside the Mariana Trench, the world’s deepest undersea trench – which at its deepest is some 34,000 feet below the surface, lies a gigantic oil rig. So big it is powered by nuclear reactors and needs several hundred people to support it. Other films would spend some time with these details, they might have one character tell another character – someone new to the job for instance – this background information while they were walking through the rig. In Underwater, the new film from William Eubank, this information is tossed at us via news clippings flashed on the screen haphazardly during the opening credits. It is a film that doesn’t have time for background information, or indeed things like story development or halfway realized characters. Who needs that when there are explosions and monsters to scare us with?
Inside this deep-sea rig, we meet Norah Price (Kristen Stewart) who gets exactly 32 seconds of screentime (which she spends staring wistfully at herself in the mirror whilst sporting a spiky blonde crew cut and wearing sweat pants and a sports bra) before all hell breaks loose. Creaking sounds begin. The rig starts to shake. Water drips from above. I’ve never been inside an oil rig resting thousands of miles below the surface before, I don’t even like to go to the beach, but even I know that if you are inside a submersible and water starts to drip from the ceiling, it’s time to run. But Norah, an otherwise intelligent engineer, just stares at it like her Dixie cup has a small hole in it instead of the very vessel she’s living in is about to implode. Soon enough, she is running as the leak gets bigger and half the rig crashes down around her. It is an earthquake she thinks, and sprints towards an escape pod.
Those have all been jettisoned or damaged but she does run into an assortment of other crew members including the Captain, Lucien (Vincent Cassell); Paul Abel (T.J. Miller – the film was shot in 2017 before various icky accusations came out against the actor effectively canceling his career); and a handful of others who aren’t really important enough to mention.
Lucien comes up with a plan, a colossally bad one, but a plan nonetheless. He decides everyone should take an elevator down a couple of levels, walk through a long tunnel to another station, then venture out into the total darkness of the sea on foot until they reach the actual drill where they can then find a way to the surface.
Things do not go as planned.
Not only has the rig suffered major damage from the earthquake, but the nuclear reactor is quickly reaching the critical stage where it will meltdown and explode. There are a lot of explosions in this movie, which seems weird as it takes place at the bottom of the ocean. Also, there are some crazy monsters stalking the rig ready to chomp on any fresh humans they might bump into. It is clearly ripping off Alien, Ridley Scott’s sci-fiction/horror masterpiece, but it isn’t afraid to steal directly from The Abyss and disaster movies like The Poseidon Adventure. But it never does anything new or interesting with those ideas.
It does bring plenty of big popcorn-movie scares, jumps, and tension-filled scenes. It is a disaster movie and a monster movie blended together to give audiences–well, not exactly a terrific thrill ride, but something fairly entertaining to watch during these long quarantine days and nights.
Kristen Stewart is above this sort of thing. She’s proven to be quite the capable actress in her actually quite interesting post-Twilight career. She doesn’t get to do much more than run, scream, look tense, and strip down to her underwear far too many times for a movie made in the 2010s. But she does what she can with the little she’s given. I’m not at all familiar with T.J. Miller but after watching this, I hope he stays canceled. He mugs and makes constant wisecracks like an unfunny Jason Lee in Mallrats which makes zero sense in this type of film.
Director William Eubank gives us no sense of the space inside the various building. There is the main rig which is multiple stories high and quite large, but there is no explanation as to what its function is or why it is so far apart from the drill. Or how the crew travels to the drill on regular days. Or why it needs that large of a crew anyway. There’s also an old abandoned building but somehow it still has oxygen and working power. There is so much potential in this story (especially the disaster side of it, the monsters not so much) but it feels so wasted. I dig a good monster movie, and I totally enjoyed myself watching this, but throughout its 95-minute runtime I kept thinking about how much better it could be.
Underwater is out now in both digital, Blu-ray, and DVD formats. The Blu-ray comes with an alternate ending, deleted scenes, and extended scenes, all with optional commentary. Plus, there are a couple of short making-of featurettes and audio commentary William Eubank, Jared Purrington, and Phil Gawthorne. I was only given a digital copy of the film for this review.