“Derivative” is not the best word to describe a movie, but it’s hard to escape using it to cover UNDERWATER. The 2020 science fiction directed by William Eubank is notable for being almost exactly like the 1979 science fiction ALIEN, except it takes place in the titular environment and pulls its monster from a somewhat different mythology.
UNDERWATER features a screenplay by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad, but star Kristen Stewart is the only reason this thing is halfway tolerable. She inhabits her role with a certain sense of competence – and that’s a good thing because she feels like the sort of person who can drag you through this imitative thing in one piece.
Stewart is Norah, a mechanical engineer who works for Tian Industries doing some underwater drilling in the Marianas Trench. One day, her facility is hit by a big goddamn quake. Norah joins the rest of her crew and they try to escape. The captain (Vincent Cassel) decides the best way out is to walk to the Roebuck 641.
Walking involves taking a trip one mile across the ocean floor, which means getting into some sweet-ass pressurized suits. Before long, all hell breaks loose underwater…where no one can hear you scream. It’s up to Norah to save the day. More or less.
It is impossible to shake comparisons to ALIEN. It’s one thing to utilize influences and turn the process of imaginative stealing on its ear, but it’s difficult to see what UNDERWATER brings to the table beside Stewart in the lead role. She is the only reason to see this movie.
Other actors, like Cassel and the shitty T.J. Miller, wither into the backdrop of this sunken sphere. Jessica Henwick sniffles her way through as Emily, an always-frightened research assistant. The lack of character development isn’t an issue insomuch as the lack of character is, as even Miller’s flapping attempts at comic relief sink to the bottom.
What we’re left with is just dense oblivion. UNDERWATER isn’t entertaining or violent enough to float by on its own volition, but at least it doesn’t overstay its welcome. At a slim 95 minutes, Eubank’s flick guts it out just in time to see Stewart save the proverbial day and knock off the big bad whatever.
UNDERWATER has all the shit you’ve seen before: oppressive suits, a tough heroine who spends a lot of time in her underwear, a nebulous but icky threat relentlessly attacking vulnerable prey, a clammy crew, etc. It’s ponderous, dull, tedious science fiction that fades from view just after the credits commence.