Aliens is a tremendous cinematic achievement, and Underwater — now on HBO — knows that. Except instead of LV-426, Underwater is set at Kepler 822, a gigantic facility at the bottom of the ocean that’s drilling for, well, I don’t know if they ever said, but it’s definitely not unearthing any original movie ideas. Not that derivation is necessarily a bad thing; with some ripping execution, familiarity can breed admiration, so there’s a chance this movie has something going for it.
UNDERWATER: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Seven miles under the sea, Norah Price (Kristen Stewart) leans over the sink and sees a spider clambering to get out. Kinda strange, how a little thing like that got down here, where Norah narrates glumly that after a while you can’t tell day from night and you wonder if the moon is dead and the sun went out for a pack of cigarettes and never came back. I’m paraphrasing a bit. What are people doing way, way down there? Operating the “world’s deepest drill” as it pokes Earth right in her Mariana Trench, which must be a sensitive spot, because after a second or three of Norah contemplating the spider an all-hell EXPLOSION erupts the exploding crap out of the facility. Cameras thrash wildly then stop, like, bam, SLO-MO, BITCH as Norah flies across the room. A calm computer voice rings through this collection of metal tubes saying the place is not entirely stable, and why does every computer voice in movies sound like Sigourney Weaver or James Rain? Can they use computers to meld the two voices together into one supercomputervoice? I think they might’ve done that for this movie.
Anyway, there are sounds outside the facility that sound like roars or might just be groaning metal being torn asunder, so let your imagination fill in the blanks. Norah runs into Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie) and they try to save some people but the water rushes in too fast and they have to BOOP hit the button and close the door and the people die and there really isn’t any time to be horrified. They dig Paul (T.J. Miller) out of some rubble and they also dig his stuffed Con Air bunny out of the rubble because he’s Eccentric. They squeeze through tight spots like greased Scotsmen and eventually find Liam (John Gallagher Jr.) and Emily (Jessica Henwick) and a captain-type who seems destined to make difficult sacrificial decisions, Lucien (Vincent Cassel), so we’ve got the wisecracker and the tough woman and the leader and a couple of expendables and which one is the android and how long until T.J. Miller dies in messy fashion? What happened anyway? Earthquake? Gas leak? Kraken? Angry superwhale? Megablobfish? Can’t tell.
This place, well, it’s not long for this mortal coil, so they really need to get to another place. They come up with a plan so crazy it might work, in which they — well, this is where it gets a bit muddy. But it involves donning underwater robot-like exo-suits to walk across the bottom of the ocean to another giant metal container that isn’t destroyed yet, because that locale has some escape pods that’ll take ’em to the surface. Of course, the designers of the humungo-drill didn’t build just one big escape vessel, but a bunch of individual ones so any potential escape would be extra dramatic. I think there are living things down here making this mess, possibly hungry things, things darting through flashlight beams, so it’s a good thing a couple of the principals grabbed some nail guns on the way out, because things are getting hairy down here. If all goes smoothly, nobody will implode or get eaten, but that’s a lousy bet TBH.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Alien, Aliens, The Abyss, Leviathan, The Meg, Godzilla (2014), The Thing, Gravity, shaky-cam found-footage stuff like Cloverfield, not Citizen Kane.
Performance Worth Watching: Kristen Stewart as Ripley? I’m game. She’s game. Dunno about the rest of the movie, though.
Memorable Dialogue: Miller meta-describes Stewart when she rescues him: “You sweet, flat-chested elven creature!”
Sex and Skin: “World’s deepest drill”
Our Take: BUDDDDEOOWWWWWW BUDDDDDDEOOWWWWW click click CHK-CHANK blam blam blam HISSSSSSSHHAAAAAHHHH blam blam blam blam blam SSSSSSSSSSSSSSS “OH NOOOOOO” VASQUEZ! you go Hicks blam blam blam blam HISSSSSSSS HISSSSSSSSSSS clamber clamber HISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS HAAAAHHHH HISSSSSS “You always were an asshole, Gorman!” click BLAAAOOOWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!
As you can see, Underwater inspired me to YouTube some of my favorite movie scenes, since it doesn’t really have any original ones of its own. I dunno, William Eubank directs with a decent amount of immediacy, a marked disinterest in characters and an occasionally troubling lack of spatial clarity, and he doesn’t waste any time cutting to the chase and spending 90 minutes in and out of the Mariana Trench, wham-bam. It’s not all that scary; we never get a good glimpse at the whatevers, and when tentacles smack on overhead glass, I thought less about impending death horrors and more about the flappy things that drag over the Honda at the $7 car wash.
The intent is to exploit claustro-fears, big-bodies-of-water fears and what’s-IN-the-big-bodies-of-water fears, all of which are on my phobia shortlist, but the presentation is too familiar to be particularly effective — and it’s an even tougher uphill trek for those of us who say, “They mostly come out at night. Mostly” whenever movie characters are being stalked by things with teeth inside their teeth. Eubanks and screenwriters Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad attempt to marry this stuff to cosmic-terror whatnot at the end, and if you pause the mania for a moment, horror-literate types will suss out a piece of the narrative puzzle. Maybe there’s some taking-too-much/taking-back/not-supposed-to-be-down-there enviro-Earth thematic fodder to chew on; maybe I’m reading too much into it; maybe contemplating any subtext in this movie is an act of Herzog-chicken stupidity. The movie is relentlessly OK, nothing more, nothing less.
Our Call: SKIP IT. Underwater isn’t bad enough to nuke it from orbit because it’s the only way to be sure. But it is just another bug hunt.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.
The post Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Underwater’ on HBO, an ‘Aliens’ Wannabe Except with Kristen Stewart at the Bottom of the Ocean appeared first on Decider.