‘Underwater’ sets scary tone for new year

By Jacob Baker

At the bottom of the ocean, no one can hear you scream.

In a month known for bad horror films, “Underwater” delivers on a concept explored many times before in an effective and enjoyable way through great creature design, good performances and earned jumpscares. While “Underwater” is most definitely flawed, it’s a welcome breath of fresh air to start the new year.

The most intriguing aspect of the film is the concept. Members of a drilling crew stationed in the lowest depths of the ocean are left to fend for themselves against unknown creatures after most of their drilling station is left in shambles.

It’s a story we’ve seen before in Ridley Scott’s “Alien” in 1979 and Daniel Espinosa’s “Life” in 2017. Hints of “Cloverfield,” “A Quiet Place,” H.P. Lovecraft tales and even a dash of the video game “Gears of War” can also be seen.

Given all of that, “Underwater” is so competently made that it never feels like it is ripping off someone else’s film.

“Underwater” wields a script that is average in terms of story and characterization, but the director, William Eubank, takes advantage of the material handed to him and significantly improves it.

Eubank adds eerie suspense and atmosphere alongside a score from Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts that’s equally as hair-raising. From tight corridors to the dark and wide open ocean floor, there’s not a moment where you feel the characters are safe. From the beginning, the audience is thrown into the immediate disaster and for the rest of the runtime, it truly feels like you’re gasping for air. Those aspects make all of the jumpscares effective and earned; they never felt cheap or out of place. 

Furthermore, what makes “Underwater” even more frightening is the creature design. “Cloverfield” meets Lovecraft in the best way possible. The creatures are creepy and sinister, and when their eyes linger in the dark as they stalk their prey, it gets tense. What also sells the horror is the performances. Kristen Stewart, who plays Norah Price, may not surpass her best performance in “Personal Shopper,” but she gives a serviceable performance for the material at hand. T.J. Miller, who plays Paul Abel, sells the humor very well, and Vincent Cassel, who plays Captain Lucien, adds the much needed humanity in a film with little characterization. The biggest surprises were Jessica Henwick, who plays Emily Haversham, and John Gallagher Jr., who plays Liam Smith, who drag the viewers into their own personal terror.

While it was a nice touch in context of the film, being thrown right into the disaster didn’t allow the audience to care for these characters or the situation they were in until around the 30 minute mark of the film. The film didn’t feel like it had stakes until the viewer saw the first creature firsthand. “Underwater” flew by with a 95 minute runtime, and it needed more to flesh out the characters. What failed to work at all was the voiceover used at the beginning and at the end of the film. It felt extremely cheesy and reeked of amateur dialogue writing.

“Underwater” isn’t a groundbreaking film by any means, but it delivers with it’s creature design, performances and awesome concept. Considering how bad January films tend to be, this year in film is off to a good start.