Review: Underwater (2020)

Underwater is a well crafted return to big screen aquatic horror!

What are you afraid of? For many it is the dark. For some it is clowns. However, for this writer’s money, few things send shivers up and down the spine as the vastness and unknowns of the deep blue sea. Most of the globe is populated by these waters and there is something particularly terrifying about those dark, unexplored, and rather alien, depths. This is a fact a few films have picked up on but with Underwater, which is the last film to be released under the 20th Century Fox name following Disney’s acquisition, director William Eubank (The Signal) resurges the aquatic horror genre.

Living up to its title, the film is set entirely beneath the oceans, as a Marianna Trench drilling station is rocked by a mysterious disaster. As the walls begin caving in and water pours into the facility, the remaining crew attempt daring and dangerous ways to escape and survive, but something is out there waiting for them.

After unfortunately sinking at the box office, Underwater is a film that is well worth seeing on the big screen, as it feels very much at home in the cinema. Despite throwing you into the deep end (so to speak) and kicking off the catastrophe early on, this film is an impressive combination of excellent set design and CGI spectacle, that really drags you to the murky depths, where you are every bit as in the dark as the characters themselves.

Alien is a definite influence (as it is with many in this sub-genre of horror) but while the action is constant, the build up to the film’s central monster is much more methodical. But when the veil is fully lifted on the film’s water-dwelling antagonist, many of you out there – especially dark fiction buffs – will be very pleased, and it comes as a welcomely huge (in more ways than one) shock.

Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad’s screenplay is definitely indebted to some of the past films of this ilk and from some repeated jump scare techniques to some patchy lines of humour, it has some faults. Though, like 2017’s Life, the monster is effective, the setting claustrophobic and the otherworldly atmosphere has you gripped. Plus, while some characters are thin, none of them are hateful and the crew is a rather likeable bunch, led by a great Kristen Stewart as Norah. Also, the film pleasingly hones in on the human stakes of the lives that are lost and as a result, it doesn’t just feel like these people are unimportant monster fodder. The ending especially reflects this. And the narrative does comment on our environmental crisis in parts too, adding further thematic meat to the bones

Bojan Bazelli’s cinematography is excellent, as is the tone-capturing score by Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts, and the film constantly feels well constructed and swallows you up in its oxygen-dwindling, deadly and limited lit setting. From the Godzilla-esque opening credits onwards, Eubank wields some exciting cinematorium soaking thrills and the film just keeps swimming towards its big climax.

Underwater would make a great companion with 1989s DeepStar Six and Leviathan (‘89 was this genre’s boom year down to the release of James Cameron’s The Abyss) should you ever fancy throwing an aquatic horror film night!

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