Review| Underwater (2020)

Review| Underwater (2020)

Everything about the description and trailer of this film screams “This is like Alien, but, like, in the less vast reaches of the ocean floor!!” Even the title on the trailer calls back to the titling on Alien. Kristen Stewart’s haircut brings to mind Ripley’s look from Aliens 3. While watching the film, Vincent Cassel’s Lucien has just enough mystery in his actions and facial tics to worry he might be an android and seeking to retrieve the beings in the water to the detriment of his crew in the same vein as Ash. These (not-so subliminal) moments are probably why many of us found ourselves buying tickets for this flick. And others were there for the next Kristen Stewart art film. By the end of its hour-and-a-half runtime, neither group was probably terribly satisfied.
Matter of fact, the casting is perhaps the film’s biggest weakness. At no point in the film did it feel like Stewart was in the same film as the rest of the cast. Underwater did not have enough thematic heft or artistic prowess to require Stewart’s clench-jawed anxiety or coldly emotional glances that are more suited to the Personal Shoppers and Clouds of Sils Marias of the cinematic world. Yet, at the same time, there were just enough stretches of silence and isolation for Stewart to stretch her (contractual) acting muscles. Perhaps if TJ Miller’s presence in the film had been removed, the incongruity between Stewart and the rest of the cast would not have been so significant. Either way, by the end of the movie it had declared itself a creature feature romp that left its lead actress in the dark pitches of the ocean while elevating the rest of the cast to a state of relief that they were, in fact, in the right film.
This is not to say that the film doesn’t have its pleasures. I didn’t see the full-on release of the Kraken coming and so the dusky-ocean-obscured CGI creature was a pleasure—as far as CGI creatures go—and its appearance put all of the false Alien comparisons to bed finally. I am a sucker for Lovecraftian tentacles and humans getting in over their heads in their conquering schemes. However, as much as I enjoyed the full-on gigantic monster fest in the final third of the film, it made the first hour stick out that much more in its uneven tone and atmosphere. And by the time Stewart has her final hero moment, I could not care less about her character and found myself wanting the Kraken to conquer humanity.
Gigantic Monster: 1
Kristen Stewart: 0

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