It’s hard to tell if Underwater is an under-water homage to Aliens‘ franchise or simply a rip-off of some under-water survival horror, like Leviathan or DeepStar Six. You will see bad-ass Kristen Stewart running for her life wearing only underwear like Ellen Ripley; but, her haircut is taken unashamedly from ALIEN³. The setting, however, suits George P. Cosmatos’ Leviathan quite unashamedly as well. You are excused if thinking the whole event feels derivative because it is what it is.
Stewart (straight from Charlie’s Angels) portrays Norah, an engineer on a mining station located approximately seven miles under the ocean’s surface, precisely around Mariana Trench. The location alone should have given you a chilling atmosphere (there is a convincing tracking shot at the beginning of the movie to confirm the harrowing depth). Within five minutes, you will see her running for her life as the station starts to collapse. Joining Stewart on the run are Mamoudou Athie, T.J. Miller, John Gallagher Jr., Jessica Henwick, and Vincent Cassell as the captain. It’s such a quick, suspenseful, and gritty opening and possibly the movie’s most treasured moment. From there, Underwater will only sink deeper.
The narrative (written by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad) follows the genre formula quite religiously. The characters are no stranger as well; there’s an apt protagonist, a leading figure (Cassell), a compassionate colleague (Athie), a couple (Gallagher Jr. and Henwick), and the comic relief (Miller). While clueless about what made the station collapse, the party seeks an escape from the death trap as they explore the claustrophobic station and stroll around the ocean’s bed. With low oxygen supply, faulty equipment, and limited safety options, the mission is totally doomed. To make matters worse, mysterious deep-sea creatures are hunting them ferociously.
The monsters, which stays hidden until the second half, are the embodiment of nature’s resistance to human greediness. They have some nerve-breaking set-pieces which remind you of the dangers lurking from the deep sea. However, those scares are short-lived and impactless, even when Underwater manages to deliver some shocking graphic moments. Piled up with the generic plots, those moments become irrelevant at the end.
As for Stewart, she delivers a stark performance from the start to the end. Yet, the narrative doesn’t do enough justice for her. In the end, there’s barely homage in Underwater, just rip-off. There’s barely a thriller, just some dose-offs.