One brief look at the history of Hollywood’s January releases reveals a plethora of crap that probably should’ve never seen the light of day…with a few rare gems in-between. William Eubank’s sophomore directorial outing, the old-school deep-sea actioner Underwater, happens to be one of those unexpected standouts. Sure, Kristen Stewart and T.J. Miller facing off against giant saber-toothed squid ain’t exactly the Bard. Eubanks, along with his writers Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad, have built a lean, mean action machine that almost never pauses for breath. As such, it’s a total blast.
“…they must fight subzero temperatures, immense pressure, and, yes, slithery beasts, to reach the escape pods…”
Norah (Kristen Stewart), an aquatic engineer (yes, that’s a profession), gets a very brief moment of pseudo-poetic self-reflection before barely escaping a rapidly-collapsing subterranean lab. Luckily, the lab happens to be part of a massive oil rig; soon enough, she joins forces with fellow researchers. Among them: the stoic captain, Lucien (Vincent Cassel), the petrified scientist, Emily (Jessica Henwick), and the obligatory goofball, Paul (T.J. Miller). Together, they must fight subzero temperatures, immense pressure, and, yes, slithery beasts, to reach the escape pods that will propel them to the surface. Of course, not everyone makes it.
At times, it does feel like Eubanks reaches for the stars, taking stabs at the grandeur and visual sophistication of superior films that clearly influenced him. To reiterate my point: a nautical Aliens or Gravity, this is not – think more along the lines of Sphere or Leviathan, if slightly tighter and grittier. The special effects range from highly impressive to murky, poorly-edited ones – it’s almost as if the producers didn’t sparse out the alleged $80M budget properly, running out of cash for some crucial sequences. The not-so-subtle infusion of eco-motifs – apparently, our heroes are experiencing Nature’s Wrath – is a little too-on-the nose.