A Brief History
On January 10, 2020, a not so latest science fiction/horror movie, Underwater, was released across the country after sitting in whatever box movies sit it while they await release for the past couple years. Despite being filmed back in 2017, the film apparently got caught up with corporate shuffling by 20th Century Fox which had been the target of acquisition by media giant Disney in 2017, and successfully swallowed up by Disney in 2018 in a deal called a “merger,” which was finally put into effect in 2019. Meanwhile, Underwater languished in a sort of movie limbo while executives worked out corporate deals and details.
While not an instant classic, Underwater is certainly up to par with other underwater research horror movies such as Leviathan, The Abyss, The Rift, Sphere, Deep Star 6 and Pressure. If you liked any or all of these films, you will certainly find Underwater to just as good or better than any of them. Sure, you could pick apart some technical details or question how we could ever build such an enormous super-deep water complex (or why), but when enjoying sci-fi horror films you have to leave some of your critical thinking at the door and allow your suspension of disbelief to run wild so you can just enjoy the film.
Underwater gets right down to business, and business is terrifying disaster. Not content to build up character development, the waste products hit the fan almost immediately. Casting, acting and directing are all good, and the special effects are excellent. The only special effect criticism we have is the flitting about of the juvenile monsters seems a little cartoonish at times. Otherwise, the big monsters and closeups of the monsters are about as good as it gets. When the researchers bring a small (baby?) monster back to the lab, the mock up is ultra-realistic. The underwater sets are excellent, including the facilities and the outside scenes. The director gets the actors to convey the extreme terror people would undoubtedly feel in such a deep sea crisis, beset by crushing depths and bizarre monsters.
While we shy away from spoilers, as you can tell by our reference to “monsters” we are talking about the main “villains” of the film, a heretofore unknown type of deep sea life bordering on a cross between an octopus, a squid, and the xenomorph from Alien. How these critters live at the very bottom of the sea and what they eat for a main diet is not addressed. They are there, so beware! A sea bottom earthquake is the cause of the disaster, which also apparently releases the monsters to the open ocean.
The main character in the movie is played by Kristen Stewart and played well. Ok, we do not like her ultra-short haircut, but she looks the part of an underwater researcher, though better looking than most. The movie makers (of course) take advantage of this fact by keeping the winsome lass in skimpy clothing whenever possible (when not wearing a deep diving rig). Why does she appear in bra and panties, while the men are more substantially clad? (Why not?) Hollywood is obviously not as “woke” as they would like you to believe!
Running time of the film is only 95 minutes so do not get up to buy a snack. With almost non-stop action you will be sure to miss something if you leave your seat. Time goes by quickly in this movie, so do not expect to be bored. The budget of $50-$80 million implies a pretty decent level of production value, and that production value is obvious in the end product. Rotten Tomatoes reports an aggregate critic ranking of only 53% approval, though the audience rating of 63% is somewhat better. While we unfortunately missed our prescreening (due to a medical problem, but we are ok) we saw the movie with as part of the paying public, on Saturday with a moderately sized matinee audience. Our fellow movie goers seemed to have a pretty good time and enjoyed the movie. Director William Eubank has a limited movie resume, but we think Underwater should give him some new opportunities. The film is rated “PG-13” and would probably benefit from more graphic gore, though the horror and terror/tension level are pretty high for a movie not rated “R.” Young children easily scared and spooked should be left at home.
We liked Underwater and confidently recommend it to any movie goers that generally like this genre of underwater terror movie.
Question for students (and subscribers): What is your favorite deep sea horror movie? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Bradley, SA. Screaming for Pleasure: How Horror Makes You Happy and Healthy. Coal Cracker Press, 2018.
Landis, John. Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares. DK, 2016.
The featured image in this article, a scaled-down, low-resolution image of a poster for Underwater, is used in an article that provides critical commentary on the film in question on a website used for educational purposes, hosted on servers in the United States, per fair use under the copyright law of the United States.