• 01 Feb - 07 Feb, 2020
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

Filmed three years ago and finally being unleashed on audiences with minimal fanfare, the Alien-aping sci-fi thriller Underwater is the most frustrating kind of January movie: one that’s almost, kind of, nearly, worth seeing. It’s a good movie that got soggy, turning it into an average one instead, a script with blurred pages, ink seeping into one big murky splurge. The setup is simple, and loosely familiar to genre fans. A crew of aquatic researchers are left in disarray when an earthquake destroys most of their facility. They’re unsure what caused it but there are concerns that the drilling team they work alongside has found something that should have been left buried. You know the deal.

For a while, Underwater’s brisk goofiness is, if anything, a refreshing palate cleanser after the more serious-minded offerings of late. There’s an impressively ominous scene-setter as we glide all the way down, accompanied by an unsettlingly sinister score, and once we’re onboard, we’re thrown straight into the action as our heroine, played by Kristen Stewart, fights to survive a tense sequence of destruction.

When the crew members inevitably start getting picked off, their death scenes, because of the film’s mass-audience-pleasing PG-13 rating, are largely incoherent. At one point a character has to remind someone, and us, that a death actually did just occur. Sloppy studio tampering has left the movie hopelessly defanged. The three years that it has taken for the film to reach us has aged it in a number of ways but most notably in the decision to cast TJ Miller as comedy support, a tiresome jester who has since been mercifully pushed aside by the industry. He’s especially grating here, spewing unfunny quips to a cast of actors who find it hard to suppress their fatigue.

What frustrates us most about Underwater is just how very little it brings to the table. It’s a solid, competently directed regurgitation of an oft-told tale that never manages to justify its own existence. With a budget of around $80m, that’s really not good enough.