January is where movies go to die. It’s a scrap heap of long-delayed releases and otherwise forgettable flicks. Occasionally there are exceptions; but they are few and far between.
The worst part about it is that in some wintry places, cabin fever is setting in and folks are anxious to get out and sit in a warm movie theater with other people who should’ve gotten a flu shot.
Queer actress Kristen Stewart takes the lead in “Underwater” (20th Century Fox), a soggy and derivative horror movie that borrows liberally from “Alien” and “Cloverfield”, among others. Stewart’s range, far more limited than say Sigourney Weaver’s, surfaces here, but you can tell she is giving it her all.
Mechanical engineer Norah (Stewart) is a team member of a crew working on a megacorporation’s deep-water drill project at the Kepler Station located miles underwater in the Mariana Trench. Not long after the credits roll, we learn that anomalies are being experienced. A daddy long legs appears in a sink. Lights flicker. Strange vibrations occur. A drip becomes a leak and then a breach. Structural failure is imminent.
When all is said and done, seven are dead and 22 were able to escape via pods. There are six survivors trapped in the station: Norah, Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie), Paul (T.J. Miller), Captain (Vincent Cassel), Emily (Jessica Henwick) and Smith (John Gallagher Jr.). Each attempts to bring their own skills to bare, but they are ultimately unprepared for what awaits them.
With 30 minutes to meltdown, a plan is devised to take them deeper to another safer level. However, in order to get to safety, they will need to suit up and spend some time walking through uncharted territory on the ocean floor. As if that prospect wasn’t unnerving enough, while listening to a last transmission from survivors they hear a terrifying sound.
As you might expect, they are picked off one by one. Rodrigo is the first to go due to a faulty helmet. Thankfully, Paul is there for comic relief. The discovery of a new form of sea life, one that enjoys dining on humans, only adds to the tension. Paul and Smith capture and kill one and bring it inside where Emily examines it. They soon discover that this was another in a long list of bad decisions.
The lengthy trek across the ocean floor leads to more casualties, including confrontations with the hungry and pissed-off sea creatures who want nothing more than to get revenge on the human, and expendable, interlopers. By the time the last three survivors make it to their eventual underwater destination, one more tragedy awaits them; only two of the three pods that will return to safety are functional. Who will go and who will stay behind?
Cheap jump scares and the less than subtle commentary on abusive corporate culture are all too familiar to viewers who like this kind of movie. Still, some of the effects are original enough to keep our interest over the course of the 90 or so minutes. However, “Underwater” is not recommended for those with hydrophobia or claustrophobia or both.