In “Underwater,” no one can hear you muttering, “what the bleep is going on?”
This “Alien” clone features indecipherable jump scares, dialogue and kills. What did she say? Where is he heading?
Is that an undersea monster … or just algae gone wild?
None of this is star Kristen Stewart’s fault. She’s game as the Ripley stand-in, down to donning a sports bra and panties combo for literally no reason. Cue the hashtag outrage!
This underwater fright fest is lost at sea the moment the first critter appears on screen.
Stewart plays Nora, a mechanical engineer on a drilling station seven miles deep. The film opens briskly, with Nora scrambling to salvage parts of the station after an earthquake compromises its structure.
Right away we’re left dazed and contused, courtesy of director William Eubank (“The Signal”). Little do we realize that’s his primary mode of direction.
When in doubt, shake that camera. Hard.
Nora and a small group of survivors face few real options for survival. Their “winning” plan sends them into the frigid waters, where an unseen menace awaits.
That’s … it. And that’s all you need given the genre template in question.
The setting may be far from outer space, but the “Alien” formula is in full effect. We have the stoic captain (Vincent Cassel), the comic relief (T.J. Miller) and the lazy swipes at corporate USA. Why not go all the way, though, and hire Paul Reiser or Ian Holm?
Again, we’ll forgive plenty given the tale’s grindhouse potential. Just roll out the scares, some visual tweaks and we’ll go home satiated.
If only things worked out so smoothly.
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The film’s first 20 minutes feature some slick, claustrophobic set pieces. Think “The Descent,” but our heroes are trapped in an underwater station, not a cave. The banter here is Monster Movie 101, but it’s not sophomoric enough to distract.
Once the real threat emerges, those beasties hinted at in the trailer, the film completely loses its way.
The main characters spend oodles of time wearing deep sea diving suits, and that changes the way we hear their voices.
Or, more accurately, hear their muffled dialogue.
If you hear half of what’s spoken, consider yourself lucky. The same holds true for the rescue in general. The best “Alien” knock-offs deliver a strong sense of place, a visual context that anchors the chaos.
“Underwater” is all chaos.
The characters scramble from one scene to the next, some underwater, some within a series of undersea stations. There’s no visual rhythm or coherency to any of it, even when on-screen text light the way.
To be blunt, it’s a mess.
Worst of all? The creature attacks are bewildering, and not in a fun way. There’s never a clear sense of the danger or where the huma
— Mark Daniell (@markhdaniell) January 9, 2020
ns are at any given time.
There’s a dash of eco-hysteria built into the station’s plight as well as a brief nod to the LGBTQ crowd. Both are so perfunctory they barely register. Nor does a belated attempt to make us care for a character due to a family connection.
We see straight through this heart string plucking.
The same holds true for the characters. They never excite our imaginations. Even Miller, whose DNA reads, “wacky sidekick material,” is going through the paces here.
The indispensable “Alien” did more than burrow into our nightmares. It captured the lethargy of a crew stuck in space plus the camaraderie that builds over time. It had a purpose above and beyond those magnificent scares.
“Underwater” jettisons those finer points along with the rest. Anyone surprised it took three years go hit theaters?
HiT or Miss: “Underwater” starts strong but lacks a cohesive, credible tone. Oh, and good luck hearing half of the dialogue.