Underwater (2020) offers fresh breath in a dismal January release slate

I love a great monster movie. That’s why I was so hyped for Godzilla King of Monsters (2019) and then so devastated by what we got. It just wasn’t anything that was worth our time. The early trailers for Underwater (2020) didn’t give me much hope for this film, but after the critics got to see it and I kept seeing surprisingly positive things I went in quite hopeful. This time, my hope was met with a fun experience backed by a few solid performances. 

This movie is extremely claustrophobic as the setting is in an underwater drilling station deep in the ocean. If that alone wouldn’t make you feel like the walls are closing in, the fact that within the few first moments something causes the walls to start collapsing and flooding areas leading to a crazy escape sequence where Norah (Kristen Stewart) bumps into Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie) and the survivors slowly start to form. The pair find Paul (T.J. Miller) while crawling through some very confined crumbled walls, then the captain (Vincent Cassel), followed by the last two members of our party; Emily (Jessica Henwick) and Smith (John Gallagher Jr.).  If you’ve seen a horror movie before, you immediately know not all of these people are going to make it and you can probably even start to put them in the order they are most likely to be taken out by whatever cause the initial accident. 

Luckily, the characters are mostly one-dimensional, the performances are grounded enough to make you care for their survival. I especially like Norah and Emily. Paul is exactly the type of character you would expect for T.J. Miller to play, but even his comedy seemed to work and be a little less obnoxious than it can be in other films. Still, Stewart and Henwick both give really great performances, with Stewart being the clear lead in the film. Not to take away from the rest of the cast, but they do get a little less to do overall. 

The set pieces really help this movie move along. Pretty much from the get-go, Underwater throws one scenario after another that our characters have to figure out how to escape. They are all connected by circumstances that make sense and that’s saying something for a B-movie like this.  This crafts a thrill ride of an experience that never really lets up. 

Where the film lacks is its exposition dumps and random story references that never really develop into anything. Norah’s voice over at the beginning, for example, references how time basically doesn’t exist underwater and that she has a hard time telling whether she is awake or asleep. Neither idea really goes anywhere and I don’t think it plays a factor in the tone or mood of the piece either. Yet, it doesn’t take away from what the film is ultimately trying to deliver. Underwater earns the Decent Watch rating. 

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