“Underwater” Movie Review


     The impeccable design elements in director William Eubank’s “Underwater” create haunting and claustrophobic sets occupied by characters whose costumes help bring forth a sense of dread and hopelessness as their technologically advanced gadgets and surroundings are no match for the foe that awaits them.  All of this would be groundbreaking if it was the first time seeing a creation like this, but given the story, characters, settings, and overall concept directly mimics everything offered in the “Alien” franchise, with some of 1989’s “The Abyss” mixed in for good measure, the entire experience is easily dismissed as being sadly derivative if not a complete rip off.  If you’re a genre fan who looks at those early works by Ridley Scott and James Cameron as the standard for all that have followed, then certain scenes in “Underwater” will have you laughing at the obvious liberties the filmmakers have taken.  So much so, you may even wonder if this is a remake or a story taking place within the Weyland-Yutani universe.

     From the very first shot that features a camera, centered in the hub of a deep sea research facility, panning 360 degrees as it reveals long hall ways quite similar to the ones on the Nostromo, Prometheus, and the Covenant, the vibe is instantly familiar.  The shot ends as we meet Norah (Kristen Stewart), a near “Alien 3” Ripley look alike with a shaved head and facility branded clothing, who tells us when you spend a long period of time this deep underwater, the ability to differentiate between the day and night slowly dwindles until the concept is left merely to a disciplined schedule.  She’s completing what appears to be her morning routine, brushing her teeth, getting dressed and preparing for duty.  

     Suddenly, an unexplained catastrophe begins to occur, leading to perhaps the most exhilarating sequence in the film.  Loud thumping noises from directly above her start to get louder.  She realizes something is amiss when water begins to leak from the ceiling, which then worsens abruptly as it spouts from the walls and floor.  She runs desperately, knocking on the doors of what is presumably the quarters of her fellow crew to warn them, but as she reaches the next hub, the entire hallway behind her is crushed by the weight of the ocean above it.  But why and how?  

     Utilizing the “Alien” template, screenwriters Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad deploy a group of six survivors on a harrowing path in an attempt to survive despite long odds.  The group, led by their Captain (Vincent Cassel) and flanked by the obligatory comic relief character, this time in the form of T.J. Miller’s Paul, as well as others including Emily (Jessica Henwick), Smith (John Gallagher Jr.) and Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie), joins Norah as they attempt to walk the ocean floor, some six and a half miles deep, enroute to another nearby facility that still may have escape pods able to ascend to the surface.  The suits the characters adorn will instantly remind you of the same in “Alien”, and the dark journey the group endures share too much in common with both the walk and the discovery made by Kane, Lambert, and Dallas so long ago.

     Comically, the beast they initially discover is brought inside the facility, which in the light looks strikingly similar to the design of the chestburster alien that once horrified unknowing audiences as it forced its way out of Kane’s torso.  It’s dead in this scene, but that doesn’t mean you should touch it with your bare hands right?  But that’s exactly what one of the moronic characters does, thereby following the same silly and unnecessary conventions of really bad horror movies and lowering itself to that level in the process.  And in immitating the “Alien” blueprint, these mysterious underwater creatures pick off the remaining survivors one by one, leading to the inevitable showdown between a singular remaining human and a not so surprising super beast awaiting at the end.

     The merits of a film like “Underwater” will greatly depend on how much you value originality in your science fiction / horror offerings.  No doubt, it is difficult to put on screen something that won’t, at times, remind you of a classic.  And these filmmakers undoubtedly were inspired by all of the same movies, but at what point do you draw the line between inspiration and blatantly copying?  As I said at the beginning, Eubanks and his team, which includes among others director of photography Bojan Bazelli (“The Lone Ranger"), production designer Naaman Marshall (“Dawn fo the Planet of the Apes”), and costume designer Dorotka Sapinska (“Black Panther”), are all working at a high level, but creatively there are too many liberties taken, meaning their work never has the opportunity to stand out and shine on its own.  You’ll watch this film and immediately feel underserved.  That is until you grab your “Alien” blu ray and make everything right again.  GRADE: D