Underwater is the first movie I have seen of the new year. This means that, despite being mostly unengaging, Underwater is my favorite movie of 2020 so far! I have a feeling that won’t last long.
Since 2008 brought Twilight to theatres everywhere, Kristen Stewart has been a punching bag for lazy jokes across the country. “She has no emotion,” is an often cited criticism of the young actress. The people making such comments clearly have not been following her career in the years since the human/vampire/werewolf love triangle concluded. In the years since, Stewart has become a mainstay in the indie film world, starring in critically acclaimed films like Personal Shopper, Certain Women, and Clouds of Sils Maria. The latter of which won the Palme d’Or, the highest honor at the Cannes Film Festival. Like her costar, Robert Pattinson, Stewart has taken the rancid lemons that were gifted to her by starring in one of the biggest franchises of its time and has made some artistic lemonade. I am saddened to report that despite her best efforts, Underwater, is one lemon that cannot be saved.
“I am saddened to report that despite her best efforts, Underwater, is one lemon that cannot be saved.”
Norah Price (Stewart) is stationed several miles under the surface, drilling for resources. When an earthquake hits and causes her station to malfunction, Norah and a few other crew members are left to figure out where to go from there. The group decides to leave their station and walk across the ocean floor to a different station for safety. Before they can do that, however, they come across the remains of a former crew member who was able to escape during the malfunction. While investigating, they are attacked by an unknown species and quickly realize that they are not alone.
Does that premise sound interesting to you? It did to me too but unfortunately, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Despite being a very tight 95 minutes, it takes over half the movie before any tension begins to surface. This is especially disappointing when you consider that the film has a relatively strong start. We are thrown immediately into Norah’s world. We get a better understanding of the toll that being stationed underwater takes on a person and before you know it, the earthquake hits and the story takes off. Underwater starts flowing swiftly and smoothly but pretty quickly grinds to a halt. After the initial impact of the malfunction, it feels mundane. Even though the characters are in a fight to survive, there is never any feeling of real stakes.
“Despite being a very tight 95 minutes, it takes over half the movie before any tension begins to surface.”
Making up the rest of the crew is Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr., and Vincent Cassell, who are doing the best that they can to ground the film. Gallagher Jr., who has proven his acting chops in the past, looks kind of bored to be there. A glaring thorn in the side of the movie, however, is T.J. Miller, whose presence took me out of the movie several times. The actor/comedian was accused of misconduct in between the filming of Underwater and its release, almost three full years later. Though that can only be blamed on the actor himself and not the people who cast him in the movie, it is still unnecessarily distracting. Made even worse by the fact that the movie asks us to care about him and his character’s fate.
As a whole, the movie is rather dull and never feels like it goes anywhere. It feels claustrophobic but not in a good, atmosphere-building way. More like the filmmakers did not take the time to better map out the location, thus leaving both them and the audience confused on where we are at any given point in time. Flashing the name of a ship during location changes can only do so much when we have no frame of reference for where it is or how it is set up. It doesn’t completely ruin the movie – it truly is not awful. There are some scary moments and Kristen Stewart is genuinely good in it. Underwater is forgettable though and that may be worse.