starring Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwyck, T.J. Miller
screenplay by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad
directed by William Eubank
by Walter Chaw Wasting absolutely no time and not interested in talking to you about it, William Eubank's Underwater is both a model of efficiency and a prototypical post-modernist piece wholly reliant on your familiarity with this genre for its depth and backstory. A seasoned viewer knows that this film is going to be about a small group of survivors picked off one-by-one; that the real bad guy will be corporate greed (or Russian greed, depending); and that if you're African-American or, God forbid, Asian, you'll very likely be the first to go. Curiously, it's in these aquatic thrillers that key exceptions to that rule--Ice Cube in Anaconda, for instance, or LL Cool J in Deep Blue Sea--seem to make their appearance. Maybe the trick to surviving the monster is being a late-'80s rapper. Alas, Mamoudou Athie is not a late-'80s rapper. He plays Rodrigo, friend of plucky engineer Norah (Kristen Stewart), and it's at his urging that Norah saves their deep-sea drilling platform to initially survive a mysterious event--and then through his noble sacrifice that Norah gets to continue to be heroic. It's worth dwelling on this conceit, but there's no time: once the dust settles on the disaster that opens the film, several other disasters follow in rapid succession.
What makes Underwater better than average are two things: first is Bojan Bazelli's moody, fleet cinematography, and second is Kristen Stewart's whip-smart, nervous, always-believable central performance. If I'm ever unconscious in a zillion gravities and my oxygen is running out, I want her to be the one dragging me out of a monster's mouth. I believe she could do it. She imbues Norah with an almost uncomfortable amount of humanity, given the relatively programmatic nature of the rest of it. Consider her first encounter with Lucien and how she scolds him for not taking one of the first escape pods to the surface. "You have a daughter,” she says. Cassel, who is more often seen in the sort of smaller, difficult films Stewart's been doing lately, Charlie's Angels notwithstanding, searches his emotions and settles on: "This is what captains do.” And suddenly, two of the best actors currently working have a real scene together. Just as suddenly, I'm invested in Norah through all the jump-scares, loud noises, and inevitable thinning of the herd, through all the familiar points from A to Z. Underwater is big, noisy, unpretentious fare. T.J. Miller dies a really ugly death and I think I muttered, "Holy shit, it's a Cthulhu” at one point, so, you know, what's not to like?