FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 9, 2023

Day 9 - "We're not supposed to be down here. No one is."

In this overly complicated workaday world of ours, I appreciate the simplicity of William Eubank's 2020 monster flick Underwater. Underwater has no lofty goals. It's only here to show you a good time. Thank you, Underwater! And thank you to the one person who voted it a favorite in 2020, because you got me to finally sit down and watch this.

It is the kind of movie that features a bunch of newspaper headlines over the opening credits to give you the whole setup and backstory in about 30 seconds.

It is the kind of movie that will also feature a bunch of newspaper headlines over the closing credits to give you a nice wrap-up in about 30 seconds. 

It is also the kind of movie that has our lead character Norah (Kristen Stewart) provide monologues to start and end the film, monologues that aim to provide some sort of "universal truths" (being underwater might drive you crazy, sometimes you have to stop feeling and start doing), but they're really just nonsense that have no bearing on anything. It doesn't matter. The action kicks in about two minutes into Underwater and it doesn't let up for the rest of the runtime--a runtime, might I add, which is blessedly only 95 minutes. In an age where the simplest slasher movies are bloated to a length that even Irwin Allen wouldn't dare, a movie clocking in at an hour and a half feels positively transgressive.

The underwater station explodes, taking out the escape pods. Norah and a handful of survivors have to descend further down and walk across a plateau to another station in the hopes that there are functioning escape pods over there. They encounter a monster, and then a bigger monster, and then...well, it's like a monster matryoshka doll down there. The end.

Really, that's it! Again, it doesn't matter. The survivors are, like, Norah, the grizzled captain, the clown, the new girl, and headband. We get the occasional random tidbit about them (oh, those two who haven't really spoken to each other are in love...? okay), but we're not going to care about any of these people, and that's a-okay. Vincent Cassel is there to class up the joint, and Kristen Stewart is...perfectly serviceable. Look, she's not a bad actress! She simply has a rather narrow range. When a role falls into that range, she's fantastic (see: Personal Shopper, Certain Women, Clouds of Sils Maria). Of course, no one has much to do here beyond "be scared" or "be determined," so it's fine. 

After all, Underwater is the kind of movie where the core meltdown of an elaborate, multibillion dollar drilling installation is triggered by dragging a circle from the bottom of a touchscreen to the top and then tapping the space bar on a keyboard.

It's all a throwback to creature features of yore, the ones sprinkled throughout the late 80s, late 90s, and even early 2000s. Be they under the water or outer the space, they all centered on a small number of people--including at least one or two A-list stars--in a fancy, hi-tech place facing off against some kind of monster. I mean, if you'd told me that Underwater came out in 1998, I would say "Oh, really?"

It's truly a bummer, though, for this movie that's nearly all action to have a sizable chunk of that action rendered incomprehensible by dodgy cinematography and editing. I get it, there's no light miles under water! There's gonna be murk! But man, it was difficult to get any kind of spatial bearing or figure out what was going on a lot of the time when our characters were outside the station. There's a slight chance that was purposeful, you know, to make us feel what the characters were feeling? To disorient us? Maybe it was to mask lousy CGI? Regardless of the reasoning, it makes for a lousy viewing experience.


But aside from multiple instances of having no idea what I was looking at, Underwater was the good time it wanted to be. Put away your science calculators, get out your popcorn, and watch a bunch of people run away from...something. I couldn't make it out, really. But it was fun!


Steve K said...

Because I wasn't in that YA demographic, I never actually saw a Kristin Stewart film until Crimes of the Future and i LOVED her performance, and pairing that role with Canadian indie wunderkind Don McKellar was a genius move. I'll have to check this out.

Stacie Ponder said...

That's on my list of stuff to watch!

goblin said...

The movie is about as uninspired as its title (Underwater definitely would've made a bigger splash if it had come out in the 90's when the "Alien but below the sea" fad was still a thing.) But at the very least everyone involved knew what they were doing, so "perfectly serviceable" seems like a perfectly serviceable summary of the whole thing.

Eve said...

Have you seen "Sea Fever"? It's like the indie version of Underwater. I liked it more, but seeing both of them helped me appreciate Underwater for what it is. Sometimes you want a spice-poached pear topped with mascarpone, and sometimes you want a Snickers bar.

Stacie Ponder said...

Hadn't even heard of it, but I'm gonna check it out, thank you!

Jason Adams said...

Yes Sea Fever is great! Very much recommended as well.

I love Underwater but just because it's such comfort food. Also I saw it in a theater first, where the visuals were MUCH easier to make out -- I watched it again on blu-ray last year and also noticed the murk. It wasn't nearly as bad on a big screen.

Stacie Ponder said...

Makes sense. I did find myself wishing I'd seen it in the theatre :(

Nicholas Kaufmann said...

I saw it when it came out. It's a fun, fast-paced, efficient monster movie, fondly nicknamed UNDERWEAR because Kristen Stewart is basically in her underwear for the whole movie.