*. Underwater is a throwback, returning us to the glory days of 1980s deep-sea thrillers. Or, because we can be more precise, 1989, the year of The Abyss, DeepStar Six, Leviathan, and The Evil Below.
*. I thought it a good idea for them to strike this nostalgic note, but only because that was long ago and I remember seeing all those movies when they came out so I enjoyed the trip down memory lane. If nostalgia is all you have going for you, then you might as well play it up.
*. And do they ever play it up. This is a movie that borrows from all those movies, and more. In particular, since many of those earlier films were Alien rip-offs, Underwater is yet another instalment in that movie’s legacy. I thought I got all the obvious connections (where have you seen that crew huddled around the light table before?), but I didn’t pick up on minutiae like the way the sound of the computer booting up in the control room was taken directly from Alien. But that gives you some idea of just how much was being borrowed.
*. Another nod to Alien is the way Norah (Kristen Stewart), who is a mechanic on the deep-water drilling rig that awakens monsters, spends a lot of the movie in a sexy bikini. That’s obviously a nod to Ripley, and one that has also become a cliché. In Deep Blue Sea, which had been twenty years earlier, Renny Harlin said that including a scene of the heroine in her sexy underwear was something he just had to do.
*. Now as a fan of the films of the auteur Andy Sidaris I can assure you that I have no trouble looking at women in action films dressed in bikinis, but even given that the quite deliberately eroticized Stewart isn’t hard to look at wearing next to nothing, I still found myself wishing she’d put more clothes on. Sometimes you can go too far, even in a $60-million B-picture.
*. Speaking of Ms. Stewart’s wardrobe, she notably appears wearing glasses in the opening scene, before having them knocked off right away. Shouldn’t that leave her squinting for the rest of the picture? Apparently director William Eubank was aware of this inconsistency but couldn’t think of a way for her to keep wearing her glasses later in the movie. So why have her wearing glasses in the first place then? It’s odd enough she has all that trademark raccoon eye-shadow on.
*. So no surprises. Unless you’re writing for the review website Bloody Disgusting. According to Megan Navarro Underwater is “a bone-chilling epic that surprises at every turn.” Now I don’t want to single Navarro out because I think Bloody Disgusting aims to have as many pull-quotes per review as they can and this was just the only one in her review that found its way onto the DVD box. But what surprises is she referring to?
*. Apparently one surprise she had in mind is who gets killed. “Who lives or dies in what order isn’t as easy to surmise as you’d think,” she writes. This, about a movie where the only Black guy is the first person who gets killed? To quote from Deep Blue Sea: “Ooh, I’m done! Brothers never make it out of situations like this! Not ever!”
*. I was surprised to find out that Kristen Stewart was the biggest female star in Hollywood at this time. I guess because of the success of the Twilight movies. She has the “it” factor that all stars have, in that you can’t help watching her. Is she a great actor? At least she doesn’t embarrass herself here, which is something, especially given her lack of wardrobe.
*. But then Vincent Cassel also acquits himself well as the grizzled rig captain, and I actually didn’t mind T. J. Miller’s comic relief either. I can’t knock the cast. Or Eubank’s direction, which I thought entirely on point. It’s just that the whole concept has nothing behind it. As you’d expect it’s all just the usual clichés. There’s even a nod to eco-horror when the scientist tries to rationalize what’s going on: “We did this. We drilled the bottom of the ocean. We took too much. And now she’s taking back. We’re not supposed to be down here.” Huh? You’re a marine biologist on a drilling rig! Isn’t it a bit late to come to Gaia?
*. The creatures are a bit of a bore. The baby is, naturally, taken from Alien, while the Great Big Monster at the End is Cthulhu in all his mountainous tentacled glory. It’s time to rethink movie monsters, as this evolutionary line from Giger through Cloverfield feels played out. But do tentacles ever go out of style?
*. A final bit of formula worth pointing out is the way sequels are set up. Apparently the evil Tian Corporation knew they were digging up some ancient evil, something hinted at in a scene that’s left deliberately ambiguous. Box office, however, wasn’t exceptional, and given the expense of making movies like this I don’t think it likely that it will be turning into another Cloververse or MonsterVerse. Not to worry though, as those franchises will continue to have your back.