Published Jan 07, 2020Deepwater drilling is a dangerous practice, and incidents like the 2010 BP oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico serve as a reminder of the environmental hazards that come with drilling in such extreme conditions. Also, as Underwater posits, we might release an ancient sea monster from an oceanic trench.
Kristen Stewart plays Norah, a mechanical engineer working in an oil rig on the ocean floor. She enjoys about 30 seconds of calm as she brushes her teeth at the beginning of the film, and then all hell breaks loose. Parts of the underwater structure begin to implode, and she scrambles to safety with a small gang of survivors including the Captain (Vincent Cassel) and wry jokester Paul (T.J. Miller, who is still managing to find work somehow). They're constantly speculating about whether it was an earthquake that damaged the station, and I don't think it's too much of a spoiler for me to reveal that definitely wasn't an earthquake.
This deep-sea action is more or less the same as a space movie, but murkier and probably much more miserable to film, on account of all the actors being soaking wet the whole time. The water pressure means that, with one wrong move or mechanical failure, everyone's head will implode, so the survivors are constantly grappling with the threats posed by malfunctioning suits and faulty air locks. The thrills get a little repetitive in this claustrophobic environment, but director William Eubank effectively keeps the tension high, and the monster-filled intensity almost never lets up.
Underwater isn't perfect. The quirkily pessimistic Paul is the only character whose personality goes much beyond mere survival, and Norah's voiceover monologues bookend the movie with corny schmaltz. The only thing deep about the movie is the distance below sea level. But with its unfussy man v. nature narrative and compact 95-minute structure, it successfully fulfills a double purpose: it's a spooky thrill-ride and a cautionary condemnation of oil extraction.
(Twentieth Century Studios)