Underwater is a beautifully designed creature horror story that pulls you in immediately, and then it proceeds to wrench your guts.
It achieves this through excellent production design, a perfectly paced edit, and a healthy respect for showcasing the creatures. Never show too much, nor too soon!
With this review, I’m piggybacking off my bro Manimal’s review of a Lovecraft adaptation. This movie isn’t an adaptation, but fans of Lovecraft should be pleased with some elements.
Mild spoilers ahead.
Production design is a part of movie magic that is often overlooked. When it’s poor you may not notice it, yet the same can also be said when it’s really good. In either case, production design is essential in order to suspend any disbelief and completely immerse yourself in a movie experience.
Take Jurassic Park, for example. The obvious showcase there was the fact that Industrial Light and Magic had resurrected dinosaurs for Steven Spielberg.
But take a look around the rest of the movie. Alan Grant’s dig site and trailer is the most believable piece of production design in the movie. It just feels real. Compare it to other designed locations such as the park visitor center, the newborn lab, and the electrified fences.
As much as I love Jurassic Park, most of the sets and designs feel rushed, and they look like painted plywood; although the movie didn’t really suffer at the time, it doesn’t hold up well in that regard.
Now let’s look at the other end of the spectrum and recall Ridley Scott’s, 1979 masterpiece Alien.
From the moment the movie opens on what looks like a floating city in space, the viewer is drawn into a complex, mysterious world. As the camera then pans around the strange, deserted ship’s bridge and maze-like corridors, we are already haunted by the emptiness and silence.
There are a million little details, from signage to seating. Almost none of the surfaces are smooth; instead, they’re covered with greeblies and knick-knacks. It makes the space seem functional and real.
It’s a perfect stage onto which a monster can be introduced and allowed to wreak havoc.
Dark Deception Kills The Light
Underwater opens with a massive disaster occurring deep… well, underwater. A drilling rig control station is rocked by what is thought to be an earthquake.
Scientist Norah Price (Kristen Stewart) begins a frantic bid to escape what could quickly become her tomb and along the way she discovers other crew members also desperate to escape.
Because this movie is drawing so many comparisons to Alien, it seems only fitting to compare the acting as well. Stewart plays her character in a straightforward way, not overacting nor becoming a Mary Sue savior. She’s the perfect reflection of Sigourney Weaver as Lt. Ellen Ripley, in that she’s doing what she can with the materials at hand.
Notably rounding out the cast, among a few others, are Vincent Cassel (Black Swan), Jessica Henwick (considered for the role of Rey in the Star Wars sequel trilogy), and T.J. Miller (Deadpool).
Hybrid Children Watch The Sea
Finding that all the local escape pods have been jettisoned, these remaining crew members quickly formulate a plan to abandon their dying station and make a mile-long trek on foot across the ocean floor to another, hopefully undamaged, station from which they can board escape pods to the surface.
Here again, the movie absolutely nails its design, showcasing the clunky-yet-beautiful diving suits that the crew must don in order to stay alive. The suits are very reminiscent of the suits used in Alien when Dallas, Lambert, and Kane go on their nature hike.
The sense of foreboding is also just as heavy. The crew have no idea what is out in the dark, crushing depths, awaiting their arrival.
Timeless Sleep Has Been Upset
Needless to say, but several crew members are killed along the way, not by any seismic activity but by horrible monsters that are unexpectedly cruising the ocean floor. I won’t completely spoil the look of the creatures but I will say that they are grossly humanoid and damn impressive. One resembles an Alien chestburster with tentacles instead of legs.
By the time what’s left of the crew reach their destination, we the audience have been treated to some effective jump scares and excellent acting.
Norah Price then discovers what caused the whole mess in the first place. It wasn’t an earthquake and it wasn’t a horde of the killer creatures.
Something larger and far more sinister has risen from the depths. Again, I won’t spoil the design, but Lovecraft fans should enjoy it.
Face The Thing That Should Not Be
Underwater is tightly paced, accomplishes its aim, and left me wanting more. I don’t mean that I want a sequel, I just mean it was that good. I should also mention the excellent cinematography; truly, the designs are perfectly highlighted and wonderfully shot.
I appreciate your time, friends. Keep your ear to the ground, your eyes on the horizon, and your heart open.
Until next time,