When the trailer first dropped for Fox’s new sci-fi film, Underwater, there was only one question on my, and the rest of the internet’s, minds: is this just Alien underwater? From Kristen Stewart pretty much looking like a Ripley knock off to the, seemingly, alien creatures recalling xenomorphs by spurting out and then growing to monstrous size, the trailer made it impossible not feel like Underwater was just an Alien clone. Hell, even the company logos on the back of their jackets look like a similar font to the Weyland Corp. logo. Oddly enough, though, Underwater isn’t the Alien clone it appeared to be. Underwater has some unique qualities that make it a tense and fun thrill-ride that almost feels like you’re watching a video game come to life.
It follows an aquatic research crew sent to dig into the Mariana Trench to discover new resources. Things take a turn, though, when an intense earthquake causes the entire submersed laboratory to collapse and flood with water. With very little time before the pressure causes the entire base to implode, the surviving crew members attempt to get to undamaged escape pods by walking across the ocean floor. However, the air pressure and damaged corridors aren’t the only problems, and the crew begins to notice there’s something lurking out in the dark waters.
The film is surprisingly very atmospheric with how it depicts the dark, open sea and the submerged lab’s crammed hallways and rooms and it actually reminded me of some of my favorite horror games. The great cinematography from Bojan Bazelli really gave me vibes of games like Bioshock and Dead Space and director William Eubank creates some nice perspective shots to create some tense scenes. There’s a great use of first-person perspective that only gives viewers and characters a small glimpse of the characters’ surroundings as they trek through the dark waters. The film definitely falls back on easy jump scares and, overall, it never feels as if the film hits the horror marks that it wants to, but I did enjoy how Eubank utilizes the lighting and background to keep things in the shadows and patiently surprise viewers with the awesomely designed creatures.
The creatures actually had a very interesting design and look, and I liked how writers Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad kept the origins and understanding of the creatures hidden. To me, sometimes it’s better to keep the origins or exact nature of the horror creature that’s hunting down your protagonists a secret, as over-explaining it can knock the pacing of the film and even take away from the mystery entirely. The only information we really get on these creatures is that they were unleashed from the group’s drilling—it’s simple and that’s how I like it. Not to mention, I loved how absolutely bonkers it got when the, essentially, “queen” creature comes in the final act and its Lovecraftian design is just totally wild.
The cast is pretty solid as well, even though their characters can feel very trope-y. Stewart is a strong lead that proves herself to be a capable action heroine and while the writing wants you to think that these characters are stronger than they actually are, I did enjoy her and Vincent Cassel talking about how being down there for so long has affected them mentally. T.J. Miller is also decent comic relief and got a good chuckle out of me, but has way too many lines shoved in that don’t hit and become tiresome incredibly quickly. The rest of the cast kind of just fits into other sci-fi roles, like the couple or the “nice one,” but I will say that seeing John Gallagher Jr. on-screen will always be a treat and even when he doesn’t have a whole lot to do, he’s just great. Really, I just wish the characters made me feel something for them because they all feel so paper-thin and I never felt too much for them even when they were in tough situations.
Underwater also doesn’t lean heavy enough into its horror elements and you leave feeling less like you watched sci-fi horror and more like you watched sci-fi action. For some, this won’t be much of a bother and it’s possible that the trailer set expectations that were never meant to be there, but the action does feel jarring at times with how Eubanks captures it. The shaky cam can make things very disorienting, there’s a clear and unnecessary use of slow-mo, and I even found it to be a hilariously strange choice to have characters run around in their underwear during key action moments. I will say, though, the final sequence with the big bad creature is pretty rad and even the deaths of characters do have some strong horror elements in how real and horrifyingly quick they are.
From the trailer, Underwater seemed easy to peg as just another Alien copycat, but there’s definitely something more there. Despite some issues, there’s definitely a lot to appreciate in Eubank’s vision and execution of the film and Bazelli’s cinematography. Personally, I’d love to even see the two of them, or at least Bazelli, be a part of an adaptation of those two games I’d mentioned before. Regardless, Underwater isn’t what you’d expect it to be and that’s a good thing.