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Review: Underwater

Updated: Dec 19, 2020

[WARNING: The following review contains MINOR SPOILERS!]

Underwater begins with a long, lingering shot that slowly tracks across the entire surface of an enormous deep sea drilling facility, establishing both the breathtaking immensity of the man-made structure... and its unfathomable insignificance compared to the dark, vast emptiness of its surroundings.

Sound familiar?

I’ll give you another clue: at about the halfway mark, a high-ranking member of the maintenance crew must crawl through the cramped confines of a narrow passageway; suddenly, a humanoid monster lunges from the shadows directly in front of him—startling the viewer with a deviously effective jump scare.

Getting the picture yet?

Okay, last hint: during the suspenseful climax, the heroine strips down to her scanty undergarments, emphasizing her frailty and vulnerability as she struggles to overcome insurmountable odds (and for no other reason, I’m sure).

That’s right: from its unconventional approach to the “haunted house” subgenre to its underlying anti-corporate themes, Underwater is little more than an overproduced, uninspired rehash of Alien; it just changes the setting from the eerie vacuum of outer space to the watery abyss of the Mariana Trench (where the iconic tag line “No One Can Hear You Scream” is equally applicable).

Normally, I wouldn’t object to this sort of stylistic transparency; Underwater, however, goes way beyond mere homage. Indeed, it adheres to Ridley Scott’s recipe for horror so slavishly that its few deviations feel more like mistakes than creative choices. In Kristen Stewart’s first scene, for example, the unnerving, atmospheric silence is abruptly shattered by obnoxiously ham-fisted voiceover narration, which immediately and irrevocably kills the tension. Additionally, whereas Alien devoted ample screen time to exploring its characters’ personalities and relationships before introducing the extraterrestrial antagonist, Underwater is far too impatient for such subtlety and restraint, instead developing its ensemble cast only after the conflict is already well underway (which consequently makes it difficult to get emotionally invested in the action).

Even a delightfully unexpected third act twist (without spoiling too much, shit gets downright Lovecraftian) fails to salvage Underwater; its derivative narrative simply suffocates any semblance of novelty. Ultimately, the film is crafted with enough competence to be relatively inoffensive, but its egregious lack of originality makes it utterly unremarkable.

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