There’s a moment in Underwater where the crew of a deep sea drilling expedition seven miles below sea level have just discovered a dead body on the platforms linking the massive drilling station on the bottom of the ocean. There’s an algae-like substance on the body.
It’s not algae. It’s clear it’s not algae, from it’s alien appearance and the entire premise of this movie. But as TJ Miller’s Paul reaches his hand toward the unnamed victim and a living creature monster attacks him (he survives, unfortunately), I jumped so bad I spilled my wine.
Jump scares are not all a thriller makes, and this one in particular you could see a mile away. However, this is when the aqua monsters first appear, and that’s what I was there for. Tightly paced at just over 90 minutes, Underwater wastes no time jumping into the action. After a brief narration from Norah (Kristen Stewart), a mechanical engineer, the underwater station starts collapsing, creating an intense scramble past collapsing corridors as Norah and Mamoudou Athie’s basically unnamed character race to cut themselves off from the impending debris. It’s a mad dash for survival, with Norah’s quick thinking saving their lives. Soon after, we’re introduced to Paul, Emily (Jessica Henwick), the captain (Vincent Cassel), and Smith (John Gallagher Jr) as the only other survivors of what they believe to have been an earthquake.
There’s great claustrophobic moments as Norah, Paul, and Athie’s character crawl through debris to get to the main control room. The immediate action means there’s not a lot of time to get to know these five before they’re in survival mode. But even as the dialogue is at times clunky, the performances and the use of trinkets and objects do a great job at letting us learn who these characters are. Stewart does a lot with so little, allowing Norah to be the tough leader of the group while also letting her feel like a real person who’s suddenly found themselves in an impossible situation. Henwick is perhaps the next standout performance of the film. At first the reluctant one to brave the underwater journeys the group is forced to make, Emily is a grounding presence among the outlandish scenarios of creature-feature genre flair. She’s a better comic relief than TJ Miller, who’s unnecessary and somehow gets more screen time than Mamoudou Athie.
All of this is great. And then the aquatic monsters show up. Barely any time is spent on wondering what they are or how they got here, but the aquatic monsters prove to be an effective film monster, whose designs will most likely leave horror fans happy.