Aqua Horror as a sub-genre has always held a special place for me. Perhaps it’s because I grew up near the ocean or I consumed a slew of 1989 deep sea movies when I was younger. Or perhaps it’s because the ocean and its briny depths still fascinate and horrify me to this day. Regardless, when a big budgeted journey into the unknown comes along like William Eubank’s Underwater, I am thoroughly intrigued and happy to say it delivers what it promises!
Underwater follows the crew of a deep-sea mining rig and station 7 miles down along the Mariana Trench, one of the deepest known locations on the planet. Norah Price (Kristen Stewart) is a technician just going through her daily routine when the worst-case scenario happens, leaving her and a few other survivors left in their now critically damaged station. Now, they must make a perilous journey through the collapsing machinery of the base, through the barren ocean floor, and to the now derelict rig. However, along with the dangers of broken machinery and water pressure, they must contend with a mysterious aquatic threat stalking them at every turn…
The movie jumps right into the action within the first few minutes as everything goes to absolute hell in the station. Kristen Stewart stands front and center as the protagonist, complete with some inner monologues to hint at her background and motivations. She’s already on edge and anxious from past traumas and the world literally falling around her isn’t helping any. Stewart gives a stellar performance in fear to the disasters both manmade and the unknown.
The rest of the cast is rounded out by Vincent Cassel as the determined Captain of the vessel. Haunted by tragedies of his own, he will do anything to avoid further loss of life. T.J. Miller plays the typical comic relief/pop culture referencer (Miller currently a toxic presence due to a myriad of reasons in real life, though his casting and the film’s production being around three years prior) Mamoudou Athie is the first survivor that Stewart’s Norah encounters and helps unite with Jessica Henwick and John Gallagher Jr.’s characters to round out a motley crew of survivors. The dynamic between the surviving crew isn’t the most compelling since we don’t have much background on the characters, but it keeps the story moving forward and without any bad performance.
What really hooked me was the production design and settings of Underwater. William Eubank (The Signal) does an exemplary job of making almost every scene as claustrophobic and nerve wracking as possible. Be it having to crawl through flooded wreckage, or tip-toe across the ocean floor while horrifying undersea beasts roam about. It truly captures the aspects of ‘survival horror’ that have made horror movies and games like Alien and Resident Evil so popular. And back on the creatures, I don’t want to talk about them too much as they carry some surprises but they scared the hell out of me. Plain and simple. Establishing a loose Lovecraft tone that makes the movie even more otherworldly and its monsters all the more eldritch. Including one particular scene of oceanic fear, my jaw dropped!
Though not the most groundbreaking sci-fi horror movie, it is a rare class in it of itself: a big budgeted B-Movie. It’s hard for genre films to have the budgets to back up their scares and scenarios, so to have something like this come along, like a lost entry in the 1989 ‘wave’ of aqua horror movies following James Cameron’s The Abyss is a rare and welcome treat. Underwater is a shocker that deserves to be seen in theaters, on the biggest screen possible for the full intensity of the experience. Despite its standard plot and characters, with such performances, production, and style, it is all but guaranteed to be a cult classic.
Underwater opens in theaters Friday, January 10th
Jacob Davison is Los Angeles based horror writer, Eye On Horror co-host, and lover of all things genre. He collects nearly as many movies as he has watched.