Derivative. It’s a word people often use when they’re criticizing a film, and it makes sense. When a lot of stuff in a film is stuff you’ve seen before, especially many times, it’s much harder to be invested because you can often see where the story is going. It’s definitely nice to be surprised by a film, but if it’s derivative, does that automatically make it bad?
Underwater near the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean lies a gigantic research facility, where the team is drilling for resources. A massive earthquake strikes nearby, which causes the facility to begin flooding. With only a few survivors left, mechanical engineer Norah (Kristen Stewart) and Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel) lead the rest of the team to another underwater facility to escape via its pods. However, they’re not alone, as they encounter deadly sea creatures who nobody has ever been seen before. 
If space is the highest possible point you can travel, then what would be the complete opposite? Why, the bottom of the ocean, of course! Just like being up in the stars, you feel just as isolated under the sea. Aside from some escape pods, there’s literally nowhere to go. So, as Alien took place in space, as the title says, Underwater takes place underwater. There’s nowhere to run as their facility floods around them, inviting in deadly aquatic creatures. Our team of characters is small and with different personalities and skillsets for their respective jobs. All of the classic monster movie elements are there, and for the most part, it’s pretty entertaining. Director William Eubank does a decent job of putting you into the position of the characters. The ocean may be vast and endless, but everything here still feels claustrophobic, as there’s still no escape.  
There are also some shades of Deep Blue Sea here, which is one of my favorite shlocky B-movies. The various facilities are flooding around the characters, threatening to drown them, or make them monster chow at any moment. There are actually some pretty gruesome deaths here, especially for a PG-13 film. A guy’s helmet cracks underwater and the pressure causes him to implode. Another guy gets pulled out of his suit by a monster, which causes the insides to be sprayed with blood. A lot of these deaths aren’t the characters’ fault either. Everybody here actually acts like a rational human being, rarely making idiotic descisions. It’s the clear opposite of a similar type of film, Life, where everybody who dies really only have themselves to blame. Because none of the characters were morons, it was far easier to sympathize with them whenever they bit the dust, especially since the actors are all solid. There really isn’t much to any of the characters (who most seem to have a conveniently dead relative to create some emotional weight), but the actors more than elevate them. They all sell that sense of terror and anxiety of being in that situation. Even T.J. Miller is great. He’s the obvious comic relief, but even in the serious scenes, he brings enough dramatic heft with his performance. 
Kristen Stewart also impressed me. I admit, I haven’t seen any of her films, aside from Panic Room and Snow White and the Hunstman. Her performance in Panic Room is fantastic, especially for being a child at the time, but I wasn’t impressed with her Snow White. I also had some limited exposure to the Twilight films, so from her recent body of work, I never thought much of her as an actress. Well, consider me sold on Stewart, as she’s not the bland actress that the Twilight films made her seem. She’s definitely a subtle actor, but you can see the determination in her face and body language to survive, and also help her fellow crewmembers survive. Her character may not be as badass as Ellen Ripley, but Stewart shows that she has the same chops an actress like Sigourney Weaver to pull a character like this off. I really need to check out her other films, because she’s clearly on the same upward trajectory as her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson, actually challenging themselves as actors. Just goes to show much competent writing and directing makes a difference in a performance. 
What really sells Underwater is the legitimate feeling of being underwater. The ocean terrifies me to no end, but at the same time, stuns me with its beauty. When the crew are walking across the ocean floor, it feels like they’re on another planet, surrounded by deep blue nothingness. The aesthetic is gorgeous and immersive, all brought to life by a perfect marriage of practical and visual effects. There’s a lot of neat looking sci-fi tech, such as the underwater facilities, and especially their underwater suits. They’re a mixture of the old-school Diver Dan suits and modern, bulky Iron Man suits. I also felt the aesthetic was similar to the video game Dead Space, with grotesque monsters chasing the crew members as they cut them down with what are basically plasma cutters from the game. Unlike Dead Space, though, the creatures here are rather disappointing in their design. They mostly just look like some standard, albeit slightly mutated, deep-sea creatures. The only reason they’re a threat is because they can kill you, but if you have no knowledge of that and if I saw one of these things swimming around, I wouldn’t be too terrified. Everything looks very clean, but also a has some grit to it, with the facility looking dirty and unkempt. It never states what year it takes place, but the technology gives off kind of a timeless feeling, where it could be now, in the near future, or distant future. The fact that we never see the surface here almost makes it seem like they’re not on planet Earth. 
If you haven’t noticed, I’ve referenced a lot of other media when talking about Underwater, and that’s it’s biggest downfall. It’s just too derivative. While there are some unexpected twists in the story, it’s all just really another skin of your classic creature feature. However, derivativeness isn’t always a bad thing when the rest of the movie is perfectly competent. You won’t get much in the surprise department here, but as a creature feature with a strong cast and gorgeous visuals and art direction, it more than does its job. 

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