The last few months have given me abundant time to revisit a few movies released earlier this year. Some of which might have otherwise passed me by. One such candidate was the aquatic action horror Kristen Stewart movie Underwater, directed by William Eubank. Whilst I appreciated the unpretention in the egregiously literal title, the trailers did not hook me during its theatrical run. The premise of a slasher thriller is a tiring concept at the best of times, and only something really original elevates them above mediocrity. The trailers magnified the cliched elements of the story. This was also coming on the heels of the proudly mindless Jason Statham movie The Meg from the previous year, which shares some narrative DNA with the premise.

Underwater isn’t as groundbreaking as the director aspired, it is a competently made piece of horror. I believe Eubank was aiming for Cameron’s The Abyss, by way of The Descent, and very nearly accomplishes this. Where the mysteries of the deep inspire wonder and awe for Cameron, Eubank’s movie weaponizes thalassophobia to enhance the oppressive dread and sublime terror of the Marianas Trench, and the unknowable things within it.

This, unfortunately, is testament to the weakness of the script. The dialogue is rough and workmanlike…

Eubank is a relatively new director, with only a few feature length productions to his name. Yet I think his origins as a cinematographer really shine through in the look and visual language of Underwater. The film communicates menace and unease with every frame. Meanwhile the constant undulating roars of straining metal and other, less natural sounds, keeps the tension ratchetted up throughout.

I wish I had seen this movie without seeing a trailer for it, as Eubank is conservative with his monsters. Kept in the background as half-glimpsed phantoms, he is content to let the impossible pressure of the water be the menace initially. The scene where one of the character’s suits is damaged, and we get to see what eights tons of water pressure does to a human body is one of the most memorable events in the movie, and is a definite highlight.

At just over 90 minutes, the movie throws us into the action almost immediately, with the disaster on the underwater drilling rig happen in the first few minutes. This allows the audience to experience an action movie thrill, before slowly transitioning into horror later on, not unlike Predator. The newspaper montages during the opening and closing credits were unnecessary however, as it felt like extraneous exposition. Horror movies don’t need opening crawls.

I wish I had seen Underwater without seeing a trailer for it, as Eubank is conservative with his monsters.

Now we must come on to the main weaknesses of the movie for me. While Kristen Stewart’s Dora and Vincent Cassel’s captain characters are well acted, everyone else is quite generic, unable to elevate their meagre material. I must talk about T.J. Miller separately. Like most of his roles, Miller plays an exaggerated version of himself, with his fourth wall leaning, semi-improvised, self-referential humour. Normally this would drive me crazy, but ironically much of the dialogue would have been insufferably po-faced without his interjections. This, unfortunately, is testament to the weakness of the script. The dialogue is rough and workmanlike, and in moments when attempting to seem profound, it falls a little flat.

I enjoyed the movie greatly, yet I feel like Eubank didn’t quite have the confidence to go all out at the end with the mounting Lovecraftian elements coming to the fore in spectacular and visually arresting form.

Overall, a very well put together horror, which alas doesn’t quite reach the goals it aspires to. Either way, I greatly enjoyed seeing the attempt.

About Andrew R. Aston

A novelist and a resident reviewer for Tbird, A.R Aston hails from deepest, darkest England. From his rain-drenched lair, he has had several short stories published in anthologies, such as Wicked Women from Fox Spirit Books and Outliers Saga. His debut novel, The Hobgoblin’s Herald, is due for release 2017.