The Popcorn Periodical
“Underwater” underperforms despite thrilling production and sci-fi homages
We’re still only in the first half of January so it’s slim pickings at the cinema when it comes to brand new releases but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t impressed with some of the exciting movie magic “Underwater” exudes. This new female-lead sci-fi/horror release may be heavily inspired by movies like “Alien,” “The Abyss” and “DeepStar Six,” but it manages to stay afloat as a concept despite sinking hard and fast at the box office.
“Underwater” stars Kristen Stewart fresh off her disastrously received “Charlie’s Angels” remake, and while new movie releases in January can be tough to sit through (titles like this month’s “The Grudge,” 2019’s “Escape Room“ or 2018’s “Insidious: The Last Key“) and have left countless audiences shaking their heads or even laughing as the credits start to roll. So before you hit the movies in January, make sure you’ve done your research. In the case of “Underwater,” it’s definitely worth a watch, especially if you’re a science-fiction fan, and the not-so-subtle odes to Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver in Alien) and Beth Halpern (Sharon Stone in Sphere) are undeniable when it comes to Kristen Stewart’s underwater swag! It’s a shame Stewart’s character lacks any depth (which is ironic considering she’s at the bottom of the damn ocean), but her physicality and commitment should be applauded!
“People are always interested in knowing the difficult parts of making a movie,” Kristen Stewart told an interviewer for Extra Butter Online while promoting the film, “and you always kind of downplay the minor discomforts because it kind of sounds silly saying, like, ‘Yeah, we were all together making this movie’…the fact that it was cold kind of doesn’t really matter but this was absolutely horrible, like the worst experience I’ve ever had making a movie in my entire life,” Stewart exclaimed. “And we’re like allowed to say it – this was awful, physically harrowing, claustrophobic, like genuine experience. Our suits weighed as much as we did! I had like, my twin on my back every day trying to take me down. And I also don’t like water very much, I’m scared of it, which is part of the reason I wanted to do this movie!”
Stewart goes on to say she took the role of Nora Price in “Underwater” because she was impressed with the director William Eubank and his first movie, “The Signal.” and how he did a “remarkable amount with a tiny budget.” Stewart finishes her statement by saying “new directors bring a freshness of process that’s exciting and igniting,” which definitely transpires on-screen while watching “Underwater,” even if the film’s criticism has been polarizing.
After my screening of “Underwater“, I took to Twitter to ask director William Eubank (@superswift) a few questions. To my surprise, the director answered with enthusiasm!
“What was one of the highlights directing this film and what challenges did you face, if any, on those crazy sets,” I asked him. The elaborate and often claustrophobic sets reminded me of some of my favourite sci-fi and disaster films from the past.
“Very cool!” Eubank replied. “Honestly, dreaming up and building those sets was unlike anything I’d ever done. We had a blast!”
I thanked him for replying and went on to ask about the underwater suits the actors wore in the film. Apparently they weighed just as much as the actors and filmed in them for up to 8 hours!
“The suits were super tough on the actors,” Eubank said. “They were gladiators to put up with them!”
With all the effort and money that was put into this “Underwater,” it’s unfortunate that for every moviegoer that liked the film, there’s another who didn’t. What’s even worse is that “Underwater” faces a box office catastrophe on the scale of the movie’s plot. Expensive sets, CGI and costume design cost Twentieth Century Fox $80 million USD while the feature only made $7 million USD domestically in its opening weekend -MAJOR YIKES!
That’s two belly flops in a row for Kristen Stewart whose days of starring in successful box office blockbusters seem to be dwindling. But the meat and potatoes of this film is not the acting, and while any watchable sci-fi/horror film will inevitably have its commonality with others of the same genre, it was extremely disappointing (not to mention lazy and problematic) to see some dated and quite frankly racist tropes play out in the first act of this film: SPOILER ALERT: the only black character dies first? Really?! Justice for Mamoudou Athie! At least we’ll be seeing more of him in the upcoming “Jurassic World 3” next year.
Taking all this into account, Kristen Stewart does what looks to be the best she could with a vague script in “Underwater” but if you’re looking for a wild, expensive-looking ride with reactionary moments & live-action, tangible sets (à la your favourite 80’s & 90’s horror/sci-fi classics), then look no further.
“7 miles below the ocean surface something has awakened!”
2.5 Popcorn Kernels / 5
About the Author
Joey Viola is the Co-Founder of MoJo Toronto and an LGBTQ community leader who utilizes his passion and flair for the art of writing by bringing a fresh perspective in reviewing entertainment and advocating for equality, tolerance, and social/political justice.