One of the first films of 2020 is a familiar creature feature starring Kristen Stewart and a ragtag group of researchers. It’s the kind of sci-fi movie that opens in January. It’s not big enough to be a summer blockbuster and not interesting enough to be noticeable during award season.
Underwater follows a group of researchers trapped underwater after surviving a mysterious accident. With no escape pods left, the group is forced to walk on the bottom of the ocean floor to safety. Once the group starts making their journey, they realize they may be in even more danger.
The film opens and gets right to the action by immediately throwing Norah (Kristen Stewart) and her companions into turmoil. A few slow-motion explosions and at least 3 concussions later, Norah and her fellow survivors Paul (TJ Miller), and Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie) meet up with Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel). This is where the film dives deep into familiar territory – have group travels into the dark with creatures attracted to light (Pitch Black), exo-suits (Alien), and numerous POV shots with something jumping out of the darkness ([*REC]).
Like most of human vs. creature sci-fi films, everything that could go wrong for the survivors goes wrong. The film is a 90 minute comedy of errors before the big finale. The film also features one of my favorite sci-fi tropes: Smart People Doing Dumb Things. These hyper intelligent researches do stuff like touching a creature without any gloves on. Most films like this rely on people and their stupidity to keep the plot moving forward.
Even with all the ridiculousness, the film has some flashes of fun. It delivers a few creative ways to kill people, the creature designs are interesting, and even the predictable jumps scares are pretty good.
Where the film fails is its attempt to make audiences care about these characters when the script spends zero time developing them. It’s like watching a 100M dash without knowing any of the parties involved. You wouldn’t be invested in who won or lost. There are a few hints to Norah’s past relationship until a reveal later on. The story tries to tug at your heart strings with Captain Lucien backstory and Liam (John Gallagher Jr) and Emily’s (Jessica Henwick) mediocre love story. There’s no real payoff for any of these touching moments. The characters are empty avatars trying to survive a monster attack.
Underwater is an interesting concept that settles for being remix of other films and never tries to be more interesting than that. It’s also a complete waste of Vincent Cassel. Who does that?