The film opens with images of newspaper clips of the underwater drilling facility and the researchers and crews working down below. The story begins with Norah (Kristen Stewart) getting ready for bed, brushing her teeth, thinking about her life and purpose in the world which gets interrupted when she sees a spider crawl up through the sink drain. Weird because she’s 7 MILES BELOW the ocean surface so how did a spider get there? As she’s rescuing the spider from being washed down the drain, she hears some strange noises, sees some water dripping from the ceiling, and then…kaboom! An explosion, water rushing in, causing her to immediately run and alert the other crew members. She makes it to a pod where she finds Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie) who yells at her to close the pod doors. Norah can see and hear other crew members coming down the hall but is forced to shut the doors to save herself and Rodrigo before the pod is destroyed.
Norah and Rodrigo come to terms with the situation and set off to where the escape pods are held. They crawl through rubble and various destroyed areas to find another crew member Paul (T.J. Miller) buried under rubble. They dig him out and continue on to the escape pod bay where they find Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel) sitting by himself. All the escape pods have been sent or damaged leaving him and the remaining crew stranded on the ocean floor. The three make to a control room and find two more crew members Liam (John Gallagher Jr.) and Emily (Jessica Henwick) and the group now has to figure out how to escape the eminent destruction of the facility.
Capt. Lucien suggests they put on pressurized suits (which look like space suits with the big helmet and weighted boots), take the tunnel to a nearby station, and then traverse the ocean floor to another facility to access the escape pods located there. A couple of concerns arise as Emily hasn’t been properly fitted for a suit, oxygen tanks are limited and may not hold enough air for the mission, and NO ONE HAS DONE IT BEFORE. They decide it’s the only option so they go for it.
They suit up but Rodrigo’s helmet has a crack. (One down) Paul and Liam set out first and they come across an underwater creature which attacks them. Paul and Liam manage to shoot it and take it back to the control base where the crew determines it’s something no one has ever seen before and will have to be on the look out for it while they head to the escape pods. They make it to the tunnel but not before the drilling station explodes damaging Liam’s oxygen tank. As they walk through the tunnel, they have to go under a crunched section single file leaving Paul last…(two down).
With Liam’s oxygen tank compromised, Norah, Emily, and Capt. Lucien decide to carry him the rest of the way. As they make it out of the tunnel and head toward the station with the escape pods, a creature grabs Liam and tries to drag him away. Capt. Lucien manages to free Liam but not without making his own sacrifice. (three down)
With all the commotion of the explosions and people walking the ocean floor, the mamma creature is woken up and pissed, along with her minions…Norah, Emily, and Liam narrowly escape her clutches and get to the station with the pods. Norah sees only two of the three escape pods are operable so she sends Liam on the first one and Emily on the second. (They’re a couple, so their love must survive…) Norah is left in the station and determines the only way to make sure Liam and Emily make it, Norah must increase the radiation temperature to cause an explosion wiping out the facility, the creatures, and herself.
The film ends with more newspaper images of the accident, the survivors, and the intent to rebuild and continue…
What I Liked
I like under water movies because the thought of being so far down in eminent danger is scary and tension building. (As a previous scuba diver, the ocean can be very peaceful and quiet, enormous and gorgeous. I never took advantage of the fact that I was a guest and the ocean could spit me out or swallow me whole if it wanted at any moment.) This film captures the intimidation of the situation being that far down with no way back.
I really liked the camera focused on Norah’s expressions within the helmet and throughout. I think Kristen Stewart did a pretty good job being scared yet pulled together as a senior crew member. TJ Miller is the comic relief which works well as his character only adds to the tension in the effort to take it away. He kinda says what people are thinking in a sarcastic way but his actions support the team. Emily starts off as a potential liability with her anxiety but ends up coming into her own strengths by the end. The underwater creature is pretty cool looking and I liked how they smaller versions were just hanging out near the ocean floor like a sea of jellyfish.
One scene I thought was pretty cool was when Norah escapes from one of the creatures. (Hint: Sharknado has a similar scene in which the hero “escapes” the stomach lining of the Great White…)
What I Wished Was Better
I feel like Underwater was pitched with the idea that it would be like Alien. Instead of space, it’s under water! Instead of Sigourney Weaver, it’s Kristen Stewart! Instead of an alien, it’s a giant sea creature with creature babies who feed on human flesh!
So, here’s where my problems are…Norah’s bleached hair without visible roots. My understanding is they’ve been down there awhile. She packed hair bleach to work a job 7 miles below the surface? Also, I get she’s the heroine but the male characters get taken out so easily while she gets thrown around, eaten by the alien, and beaten up all without her suit, helmet or body compromised much aside from a few scrapes.
The rubble and destruction of the facility. I mean, there’s been a large enough disturbance or explosion to cause hallways and areas to be reduced to rubble. How is there not massive amounts of water gushing in? I get that they manage to close off an area, but there’s no mention of increasing pressure from the ocean leading to the building imploding and certain death. The only issue they briefly mention is the radioactive core temperature increasing which will cause a meltdown and yada, yada, yada which is required as Norah uses this information at the end to defeat the creature.
For people who were specifically chosen to work on this facility, only Norah and Captain Lucien seem to have a clue about mechanics, the facility, and equipment. No one has been trained to use the pressurized suits, or that the “closed” station actually has power and still appears operational, and there doesn’t seem to be a safety or survival protocol for them to refer to. Except for the signs on the wall about having a buddy system and blah, blah, blah. Norah should have been the Captain character with Lucien as the mechanic specialist or something since she’s the one with the most knowledge and motivation of the whole group. Speaking of the suits and tanks, are there NO extra tanks they could’ve brought with them? Each one of them could have carried a replacement oxygen tank, then Liam wouldn’t have had to be drug across the ocean floor making his character a tad more useful toward the end. Also, those escape pods are kinda roomy. You want me to believe Norah couldn’t have timed the radioactive explosion for 60 seconds (which lasted about 10) and then jumped into the pod WITH Emily and escaped?
The discovery of the creature is a bit misleading and under-exploited once Norah reaches the station and finds Capt. Lucien’s personal locker with his badge and stuff. He has pictures and maps and documentation of the creature being sighted and yet he says NOTHING about it. The film could’ve used this to its advantage of how to fight it, sneak past it, or SOMETHING but no…
Underwater starts off well, creates a great tension filled scenario; but fails to fully realize its potential as being a true underwater thriller. It may have been better without the creature element… Available for rent on streaming platforms and Redbox. Watch the trailer below:
Fun Facts: Each pressurized suit weighed about 140 pounds. It took three years from production to release due to Disney purchasing 20th Century Fox making it the last film released under the original studio name before Disney changed it to 20th Century Studios. The alien sea creature is based on the creature Cthulhu from H.P.Lovecraft’s Mythos. The existence and awakening of the creature explores the idea the drilling corporation woke the creature up on purpose…a fact which may have made the film more interesting if they were all in on it and it backfired. The creature’s myth is never even mentioned.