Underwater – Review

After spending the last decade taking more low key roles and lending her name in order to get projects some traction, Kristen Stewart is now moving into a place where she is balancing the larger studio productions with the more indie and arthouse movies. So, it didn’t come as a surprise that it was announced that she would be starring in a couple of action movies. After Charlies Angels, she has now appeared in the deep sea thriller, Underwater.

Norah (Kristian Stewart) is a mechanical engineer on a deep-sea drilling platform. Disaster strikes in the form of an apparent earthquake resulting in the facility becoming compromised. Barely making it to the relative safety of the core of the facility with a colleague, she is faced with the problem of trying to find a way off the construct in a way that will keep her alive. Along the way, she meets some fellow survivors and together they hatch a plan to get to the only available life pods. It is only then they start to get a feeling for just how the crippling incident occurred and what the dangers they face outside of the water, pressure and the seemingly lifeless dark.

Comparisons to other thrillers set in isolated environments are inevitable. There are elements on show here that directly relate to other deep-sea dramas as well as the obvious space set movies of which Alien is still the best. The film acknowledges its influences and makes no effort to disguise them. This is no bad thing. Rather than trying to mark itself out in some quirky way, it means that the story can just do what it needs to in order to be a spectacle and not worry about comparisons. It is not concerned with it.

With a run time of ninety minutes, the film does not hang ballot. The opening title sequence is used to great effect. Over the stirring theme, we are presented with a background information dump. This gives us the basics of why the drilling operation is there, where they are and the fact that the company running the operation as obviously secretive and in some undisclosed way a bit sinister. With this out of the way, before a single face is on screen, the film has no need to do anything else apart from concentrate on the survival story.

And concentrate it does. After only two minutes of calm, where we are introduced to Nina as she readies herself for work, all hell breaks loose. With explosions, fire and confusion the film kicks int high gear. Using neon and pulsing lights along with smoke and visuals that follow the flight from danger, we get a real sense of the environment and just how serious the situation is for all concerned.  The film never really lets up from there. It is one situation after another with little time for you to reset.

The enclosed locations give a real sense of tension in the story. The sets are dark and fairly constricted. There is a grimey look to the rooms and the atmosphere is humid with the survivors always covered in a layer of sweat. The cinematography adds to the constriction with a lot of close up shots. This adds to the foreboding sense of the enclosed areas. The fact that it covers some of the deficiencies in the budget is an added bonus. This is not a large production. It makes excellent use of the setups and it is imaginative in the way it opens out the story.

Kristen Stewart has already proved that she can carry a film, a statement that can now be extended to action movies. She is the focus of the film and is front and centre for the vast majority of the run time. Her portrayal is of someone who is confident in their abilities, not easily discouraged but not without feelings. There is a short sequence that emphasises this near the start of the film. The initial threat has been taken care of and she is working out a way forward. She is in control as she analysis the situation but the camera slowly pans down to see her hands shaking almost uncontrollably. it is never highlighted by the other person with her but signals to the audience that she is not a machine and is as scared as everyone else. Stewart underplays the character as it is far more effective to do less than go large.

The rest of the cast is a mix of the usual types that pop up during this type of movie. One comedic guy, a couple of characters that seem to be there only to make up the numbers and a foil for Norah to play off of. In this case, it is the captain who is played by Vincent Cassel. With his own reasons to be on the drilling rig, he is a prime candidate for certain plot points. To its credit, the film underplays these for the most part. There is just enough of a relationship built up for you to care about him and whether he survives or not. The other members of the cast are developed in a similar way. Despite looking like cannon fodder at the outset, they all get enough of a part to ensure that they are essential to the film and not merely filler.

Underwater plays to its strengths with a strong lead performance a claustrophobic set up and a plot that doesn’t waste time. The film is available to buy on streaming services.

John McArthur
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