The most shocking thing to me about Underwater is that some critics are actually calling it entertaining and fast-moving. That may be true for the first half-hour of the 95-minute subterranean Alien-ripoff. But after that… it sinks into a murky morass devoid of any real plot, character development or geographic orientation. The film opens with electrical engineer Norah (Kristen Stewart, Charlie’s Angels, Twilight) brushing her teeth in the communal bathroom of an underwater laboratory and waxing poetic via voiceover about her angsty, cynical existence. Then something rocks the lab. It appears to be an earthquake (but we never find out for sure). Whatever the cause, it forces Norah to run for safety as water starts to infiltrate the lab, compromising the infrastructure. If there’s one thing you’ll learn off the bat, it’s that skimpy underwear may seem like a poor choice during an earthquake, but it comes in handy if you need to slip into a bulky pressurized suit to trek across the ocean floor.
The movie does benefit from a strong score that teases an intense, edge of your seat, adrenaline-rush adventure. If only it were more than a tease. The gist of the plot is this: Norah and a few other survivors including a scientist (Mamoudo Athie), the Captain (Vincent Cassell), a sophomoric prankster (the embattled T.J. Miller), a young research assistant (Jessica Henwick) and a colleague she may have the hots for (John Gallagher Jr.) are all trapped seven miles below the ocean’s surface. They need to make their way to a capsule containing several escape pods. You may think limited oxygen would be their biggest worry, and it is – until they encounter a bunch of hungry alien-looking sea creatures stirred awake by the quake.
Some of the crew gets picked off in short order. Good thing I never felt invested in their fate. Sometimes, I couldn’t even tell who bit the dust, or how certain characters got from point A to point B. They just sort of disappeared, or reappeared.
Underwater was shot about three years ago and is just now surfacing, in the cinematic graveyard known as January. That should tell you something. But hey, if you’re into sci-fi horror and aren’t claustrophobic, Underwater may float your boat just enough to justify its existence. Otherwise, skip it.