Ah, the heady days of the pre-COVID-19 world. It was a time when you went to the theater and, unless you already had a choice in mind, you had to actually make a decision. When Cameron came aboard, as I mentioned yesterday, it became a matter of splitting between two new releases every week. And while this was the case this past weekend, and hopefully a sign of a return to something resembling normalcy, for a long time there were no options. I say all this because somewhere in the dim recesses of my mind’s film library, I remember Underwater (2020) coming out, but for whatever reason it was not seen or reviewed by Cameron or me. I think I saw Kristen Stewart’s face, who stars as the deep sea oil rig mechanical engineer Norah Price, and thought, nah. It would seem that I opted for 1917 (2020) that weekend, in which I was also disappointed. Having watched Underwater, I still made the right choice.
Okay, Underwater is not that bad. It is not that good, either. The reason it is so bland is because there is nothing terribly original about it. Stop me if you have heard this one before: Norah is on this underwater rig and something goes wrong, causing an implosion and killing many of the people aboard. She is seemingly the first in her dormitory section to discover the breach, and she runs through the halls frantically trying to awaken her co-workers. Only one other responds, and they make it out before it is destroyed. At first, they believe the damage is caused by an earthquake, and as they make their way to the escape pods they encounter other survivors. Those pods, though, are damaged beyond use, meaning they have to find some other way to return to the surface. This involves walking across the ocean floor, but first they must go deeper. Along the way they discover there is something else living in the deep, a set of deadly creatures that seek to attack them whenever they get the opportunity. The speculation is that their drilling activities have awakened some unknown beast that does not care to have its home invaded. Look, this movie is pretty simple: Norah and her five compatriots are trying to make it to another rig where they believe they can finally get, well, above water. In the process, they must contend with their fear not only of this newfound, ravenous animal, but the terror of venturing into the inky blackness of the depths. There are also damaged and flooded underwater structures to navigate. And not all of them make it. After a few untimely deaths and some other near scrapes with the creatures, the remaining three, Norah among them, finally make it to their goal. Norah and Emily Haversham (Jessica Henwick) put the injured Liam Smith (John Gallagher Jr.) into an escape pod. While Emily makes the final preparations, Norah finds out that the third pod is inoperable. Because Emily and Liam are a couple, Norah insists that Emily take this last means of escape. However, as their two vessels ascend, it becomes apparent that the creatures are not willing to let them go without a chase. Also, the creatures seem to spawn from a giant beast that is tearing up all the undersea structures in the area. Basically, it is the kraken. Staying behind, Norah decides to overload the base’s nuclear reactor, succeeding in killing the mother monster and all its spawn, but also dying in the process.
There are elements of so many other movies in Underwater that if you have seen such titles as Abyss (1989), Alien (1979), or even Deep Blue Sea (1999), then you have seen this one. Underwater truly does nothing different. Still, because my Catholic antenna is always up, I got a little excited in the opening scene with Norah. As we hear a voice over from her talking about the struggles with living, um, underwater, we see a spider crawling nearby as she brushes her teeth. Yes, even arachnids are precious in God’s eyes, and thus I was pleased to see her spare the eight-legged insect instead of crushing it in fear. Thematically, I thought this would somehow tie into how the deadly sea creatures treated her or at least her overall survival, but I guess not. Still, I appreciated the sacrifices she is willing to make for her friends. There is a kind of interesting way she rationalizes these actions, separating herself from her feelings in order to have a clear head to do what is right. Feelings are a tricky thing, particularly when you do not have a relationship with God. Most of Western philosophy in some form relates to the way what we do is tied to our feelings, or, more precisely, our passions. As a practicing Catholic, I find that too often a life without prayer leads to disordered passions. And yet faith does not seem to be a part of the calculus of the characters in this film. That is okay, too. Being a good person is a grace in and of itself, and it is good that Norah fit that description.
Underwater may have been unimaginative, but at least it had characters about which I cared. I even found myself rooting for the sarcastic character played by T. J. Miller, Paul Abel. In other films his constant cracks can get a little grating, especially when they become inappropriate. There is nothing like that here, and his stuffed bunny becomes a talisman of survival. In all, if you feel like watching an unoriginal science fiction/horror film, then have at it. The only part of it that I found objectionable is how they decided to dress Norah in as little as possible whenever she was not in her dive suit. They could have written it so that she did not have to basically be in a bikini the entire time, but at least there is no nudity. Otherwise, there are some nice moments, but nothing new.