It feels like if you live and work at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, literally 10km straight down the belly of the ocean, you’re kind of asking for trouble. Not to blame the victims, but you’ve got to know drilling holes into and beyond the darkest depths of one of the last unexplored corners of the earth is a risky endeavour.
Norah (Kristen Stewart) is brushing her teeth…at some unspecified time. It’s hard to distinguish night from day when the sun and the moon are irrelevant. A small tremor at first, but enough of a shake to make her cautious. And soon: chaos. We don’t know exactly what’s happening but neither does she. Barely ahead of death and destruction, she races the flood and the collapsing quarters to a hub where she meets Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie), a colleague whom she’s just now meeting for the first time, and together they slam the hold shut, sealing it from rushing water but also panicking survivors. Tough. When you’re that far beneath the ocean, there’s no room for error or second thoughts. Crawling over squashed bodies and around drowned bodies, they eventually meet up with barely a handful of other survivors: Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel), Paul (T.J. Miller, ugh), Liam (John Gallagher Jr.). and Emily (Jessica Henwick). Which is when they realize that until now, they’ve had it easy. Their station is in ruins, so their only chance is to traverse the ocean floor toward the next one, where hopefully escape pods will still be intact. It’s practically impossible and completely dangerous, but what choice do they have?
Underwater will certainly call to mind other wet movies: The Abyss, perhaps, if not The Meg. It’s nonstop action and nonstop stress. There is tension in every breath. It is awful not to know the cause, and then it’s awful knowing it. Director William Eubank is relentless and it’s hard not to take that personally. My breathing is fast and shallow and I’m not even the one stripping to my underwear, shoving my broken arm into a very uncomfortable diving suit, rationing my oxygen, and taking on the ocean’s meanest predators in the Earth’s most hostile environment because the other threat is so much worse.
It’s a man vs. nature film that doesn’t quite tread any new water (forgive me), but it does stay afloat, buoyed by those that came before it. It’s formulaic and familiar, but it’s also a competent thriller and modestly entertaining.