I first learned about Underwater (2020) when the trailer popped up on the YouTube homepage back in August of 2019. I was confused, though thrilled, to see Kristen Stewart front and center. It shouldn't be news to anyone that she kicks ass. You don't have to like Twilight, but you do have to like K-Stew. The same goes for Robert Pattinson, but we'll get to him another time. I was also confused, though less than thrilled, to see T.J. Miller appear with his signature brand of dolt. Him you can dislike all you want. The film itself looked decent, but predictable if not derivative. Underwater was slated for early January release - the dumping ground for studio rejects. At the time I was underwhelmed. I would later realize that principle photography was actually completed back in 2017, but the film had been shelved as a result of the Disney/Fox merger.

Underwater was released in North American theaters on January 10th, but certainly didn’t blow the hatch off of the box office. It took in a global total of $40 million dollars against an estimated budget of $80 million dollars. A bona fide box office failure. Audiences and critics responded less than favourably to the film during its theatrical run and it faded with a whimper. Underwater was produced by Chernin Entertainment and was distributed by 20th Century Fox. The film was the last title to be released under the Fox moniker before The Walt Disney Company unceremoniously changed the title to 20th Century Studios.

Kristen Stewart in Underwater.

The screenplay for Underwater was written by Brian Duffield (The Babysitter) and Adam Cozad (The Legend of Tarzan) with the initial story concept coming from Duffield himself. The film was directed by William Eubank (The Signal) and shot by Boja Bazelli (The Ring). It stars Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Mamoudou Athie and T.J. Miller.

The film opens with a hasty montage of newspaper clippings providing crucial exposition about the depth of the vastly unexplored Mariana Trench. Spoiler notice... It's deep. The setting is the Nostromo Kepler 822, a commercial starfreighter drilling facility operated by the Weyland-Yutani Corporation Tian Industries (that’s enough of that). The film opens with Kristen Stewart's Norah flexing some serious Ripley vibes as she brushes her teeth in her “underwater-garments”. Things go terribly awry as the facility is hit by a powerful earthquake, which causes depressurization and flooding. The survivors band together and plan a daring mission to walk one mile across the ocean’s floor to the neighbouring Roebuck bore site where they hope to find functioning escape capsules. They soon discover that their problems are greater than their diminishing store of oxygen and power and, as is to be expected, something goes bump in the night…

Kristen Stewart in Underwater.

Underwater wastes no time in getting moving. The pace is brisk and doesn’t let up for the entire 95 minute-long runtime. The characters feel surprisingly real, even though the nature of their work is obviously tailored for a barrage of action set-pieces. The plot is refreshingly void of a central love interest for Stewart’s Norah and the story instead focuses on her willingness to lead by example. Yes, the story is quite literally H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulu by way of Alien (1979). Yes, the beats are predictable and rarely new. Yes, if it weren’t made by Fox maybe there’d be a legal case against the writers, but we’ve seen far worse bastardizations of Ridley Scott’s seminal masterpiece such as Jason X (2002), The Cloverfield Paradox (2018) and the irritably smug and misguided Alien: Resurrection (1997), which is by far my least favourite of the Alien-Predator continuity (LONG LIVE ALIEN 3).

First contact in Underwater.

I won’t go so far as to say it’s love at first sight, but I am willing to see where it goes. Who knows? I could see myself making space on the Blu-ray shelf for this one. I'm recommending this one because I think it is as deserving of an audience as any mainstream horror release out there.

"What's the scariest part of a roller coaster? Waiting in line."


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