UNDERWATER (2020)

(VOD) In January 2020, I had just watched FORD V. FERRARI at a cineplex in Evanston, Illinois as part of my obligatory Oscar viewing, and I had some downtime before I was due to meet up with my wife to watch 1917. I exited the theater and noted the poster for UNDERWATER on my right. “Well,” I asked myself. “I could eat popcorn for dinner again and squeeze this film in, or I could wander around town and look for a new pizza place.” Sick of popcorn, I opted to skip UNDERWATER and, while the pizza and unnerving quiet of exploring a college town in-between semesters was memorable, I have regrets because this film is best watched on a big screen, not at home.

UNDERWATER is a film that shamelessly borrows from ALIEN and THE ABYSS but, if you need a summary, here’s one: it’s about a ramshackle bunch of characters stuck in a corporate underwater mining rig that’s about to collapse upon itself due to what may or may not be some newly discovered creature. Despite that, it’s the film’s later clutch collection of set-pieces that makes it feel more inspired from videogames like BIOSHOCK, SOMA, and METROID PRIME. Cinematographer-turned-director William Eubank and cinematographer Bojan Bazelli (who shot the fascinatingly gonzo A CURE FOR WELLNESS) make this film into a visually relentless marvel; there is one scene that literally made my jaw drop and then start clapping — don’t worry, you’ll know it when you see it — but I realized I was clapping alone, and wished I’d witnessed it with a crowd, even if I’d be the only person clapping.

It helps that Kristen Stewart makes a fantastic action lead, as all of the Stewart tics that people (unfairly) complain about — her flat affect, her distanced glance, her disaffected air — also make her a great action hero. She isn’t given much to work with character-wise but she goes above and beyond to imbue it with something more meaningful. The supporting characters include T.J. Miller who, predictably, sucks up everyone’s air (and obviously improvs some terrible lines), and even tries to outshine French mainstay Vincent Cassel (LA HAINE), who is keeping it classy.

Obviously, this film was buried as production wrapped in 2017. You can visibly see that there were rewrites involved during shooting, re-edits, probably re-shoots. It wasn’t released until January 2020 and it bombed because who wants to see a underwater horror film in January? My guess is: the end tested poorly, which is understandable, but it’s a big swing that made my eyes well up and I love films that take big swings, and perhaps you do too.

(It’s worth noting that the expository dialogue in the trailer is -not- in the film, and it’s a better film without it.)