This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all movies, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.
Underwater is a 2020, action/horror movie, directed by William Eubank and starring Kristen Stewart and Vincent Cassel. The movie follows a crew of researchers stuck underwater in a deep-sea drilling station and their struggle to get to safety. Clocking in at an hour and a half, Underwater’s simple premise allows it to explore several themes and engage the audience with solid horror moments, thrilling action, and a great sense of pace. However, the writing could have used a bit more flair, the themes are not all satisfactory in their execution, and ideas that do not have the appropriate work put in them still ended up in the final cut. Overall, I enjoyed the movie and definitely think it is a worthwhile watch for anyone looking for a solid horror-action hybrid or another excellent performance from Stewart, but the faults are definitely noticeable and end up hurting the experience.
I want to start with the positives first, because overall I do think this movie has more positives than negatives; but, most of the positives come with a caveat. The only positive point that has no “but” after it is the acting; Kristen Stewart yet again stills the show and is great, Cassel is great, even T.J. Miller is good (no shade towards him, its just usually the comedic actors are the ones most at risk at becoming annoying). Stewart’s acting skills are mostly the reason she stands out, but also the fact that her character is the most well written and well rounded in the movie; the rest of the crew seem to be shifting back and forth from horror architypes to action ones and it makes them feel less real. Most of them don’t really have a personality, but some of the writing does manage to endear them and make their scenes effective, just not as much as they could have been. A lot of that has to do with the specific mix of horror and action the movie is going for; this is an escape movie that has both “versions” of that subgenre mixed together. So, in some scenes escaping is scary and tense, while at others is more of an action-packed thriller with set-pieces and one-liners; this is the first of two reasons why I think this movie is as polarizing as it has been for audiences. I really enjoyed that tension and the adrenaline rush it simulates with this particular mix and this keeps up for most of the movie, so that is why I’m mostly positive on the experience. Another reason is that, clearly, Eubank has a lot of talent and creativity. There are many ideas and themes in the movie and most of them don’t really come to anything satisfying (more on that later), but the ones that are consistent throughout (especially for Stewart’s character) are rewarding and thoughtful. Directing wise, he has a real talent for claustrophobic environments and great use of darkness.
Having said that, there are major flaws and reasons for people to dislike this movie. The big one for me was the writing; although solid for Stewart’s character, the other characters lack personality and ‘flair’. By flair, I mean that even though I know the reason these characters are in this situation and their history with each other, they feel disconnected or like friendly strangers; some of it has to do with the way they “reunite” at the beginning of the movie, but a lot has to do with the writing and it not being convincing of their relationship and history with each other. Moreover, the thematic and environmental storytelling is all over the place; the movie can easily be separated into two parts, but that is not what annoyed me. It was characters mentioning an idea, a theme, a problem from which the movie can explore stuff and then dropping or resolving them in seconds. While the influence of a certain horror style takes over the story and visuals, my big problems were with the actual ending; that is where a lot of ideas start getting resolved poorly and were new ones are introduced at the last stretch and resolved in the credits. I suspect most problems with the ending will stem from the literal story and visuals, but I liked the metaphorical and allegorical ending of the story; I can’t excuse a lot of the other issues with the movie though.
Overall, Underwater is a GOOD action-horror hybrid of a movie; it has solid directing, great acting, and works well within its sub-genre in both action and horror wise. It does however cater to a certain niche and that will put off a lot of people; while that may be true and I was simply representative of that niche, I can’t look past some of its obvious errors in writing and characterization. But, the pros outweigh the cons for this particular movie and although I won’t be thinking about it for too long or probably never see it again, I did enjoy my one and a half hour with it and I think many viewers out there will too.