Underwater is a glorious, efficient, tightly directed, low-brow thriller. A monster movie that should be a B-movie but is elevated by its production value and the A-list star power and gritty performance from Kristen Stewart. It knows what it is and as long as the viewer goes in with the right expectations Underwater delivers the goods. This movie was filmed in 2017 and after the Disney-Fox merger Underwater was lost in the shuffle and is now being unceremoniously dumped in the doldrums of an early January release. This is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because this movie is a terrific aquatic thriller and the release date fits perfectly with the material. A curse because Underwater is likely going to be dismissed as a throwaway movie when it is much better than the release date is letting on. Going back even further than 2017, all the way back to January of 1998, Deep Rising came out and died a quick death at the box office, only to later have a second life on home video and cable as a cult classic. Both Underwater and Deep Rising are clones of the sci-fi thriller masterpiece Alien (1979), they just move the action from outer space to deep sea. Underwater is a fun and suspenseful ninety minute ride and that is all the viewer should care about when buying a ticket to see it.
The movie opens up with some credits that serve as exposition bringing the viewer up to date of where the action is taking place and why by using newspaper headlines, blueprints, and some shots under the sea. While all of this is going on the audience hears the pulse pounding score by Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts. The first real shot is a long one as the camera dives deep into dark, black water following a tower down to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean seven miles beneath the surface. It stops at an undersea research and drilling station where we meet our main character (Stewart) and she delivers some narration to bring the audience into her minds cynical world view. Right away there is a sense of dread being built and the first big action scene happens within the movies first five minutes. From there, Underwater is just piling on the tension. After a big explosion the few remaining survivors are scrambling for their lives and trying to get to the neighboring underwater station in order to make it back to the surface. But of course, they soon discover that the explosion awakened something deep below the bottom of the ocean, and they are not alone and about to come face to face with a horrifying creature.
The leviathan itself is heavily inspired by an H.P. Lovecraftian nightmare while adding in a few CGI limbs and xenomorph glossiness. This is a memorable yet kind of familiar monster. Underwater was heavily influenced by Alien, and its sequel Aliens (1986), in practically every way. The set design looks both futuristic and militaristic as those did, so do the costumes down to the animatronic machines the characters use to get their deep sea wet suits on. The lighting is practically identical to those films as are and the all around imagery could have been moved to space and Underwater would have been the next entry in the Alien saga. Even the casting of Kristen Stewart with her short haircut and the level of fear she displays lessening into becoming an eventual leader of the group. She was intentionally channelling Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, the heroine from the Alien franchise. There even is a slight social commentary on big oil conspiracies and evil corporations not caring about their workers safety, just as the Alien pictures do. So why recommend Underwater if it is such a blatant inspiration from Alien? Simple answer, this movie is fun. It succeeds in everything it sets out to accomplish. Man fights for survival against a monster on the ocean floor, and it is scary and thrilling almost every step of the way. T.J. Miller is cast as the comic relief character but his jokes never really hit the way they are supposed to. He is the weakest link in an otherwise high tension thriller that lacks originality but makes up for it by inducing anxiety. Deep Rising was funny, when it tried to be. Underwater is best when it is going for straight suspense making the audience wait, and Kristen Stewart proves that she is ready to be an action star and can carry a science-fiction thriller as well as anybody. Underwater works as a fun, quick, suspenseful escape from your daily lives.