REVIEW: Underwater morphs from monster horror to kaiju flick

Marcus Goh
Kristen Stewart as Norah Price in Underwater. (PHOTO: Twentieth Century Fox)

Underwater is every bit as scary as you'd expect it to be — at first. The film starts off as a promising moody, claustrophobic horror film... before transitioning into an underwater kaiju (giant monster) movie. While kaiju films have their place and are certainly as enjoyable as horror films, they have different appealing aspects that don't exactly overlap. Underwater does a little bait-and-switch with its plot, hinting at horror before descending into full-blown giant monster madness in its climax. It's not a bad combination, but it's also an odd choice to make, given that horror movie buffs might not necessarily be the same audience as kaiju fans.

The film focuses on the crew of an underwater station who are hit by an unexpected natural disaster. As they struggle to escape the bottom of the ocean, they unearth many hidden dangers of the deep. They soon discover that life finds a way to thrive in the most unexpected of ways, and that there are some things that humans were not meant to see.

The crew of Underwater. (PHOTO: Twentieth Century Fox)

Underwater begins in a slightly artsy but traditional way, stranding our heroes in an incredibly inaccessible part of the planet (deep underwater) with a terrifying disaster. For the most part, it's dark and cramped, creating this sense of discomfort in you as you experience the helplessness of the victims as they make their way through the damaged underwater station. You experience the confined environments and limited (or obscured) vision that the protagonists do, which helps to add this sense of authenticity to the movie — it's something that could really happen, after all.

Even the underwater suits that they don are double-edged swords, since they offer protection at the cost of perception and mobility. You are never quite sure if wearing their suits is a good thing, what with the limited peripheral vision and general bulkiness it adds. It does a good job of highlighting just how vulnerable and helpless the human body is, which is a great contrast to the other living things in the show.

Then some... things start appearing. You can't quite tell what they are. You can't quite see them, especially not in the murky water (something that the film uses to great effect). They're also incredibly deadly, being able to take down one of our protagonists fairly easily, especially when they're encumbered by their underwater suits. And you're never quite sure if you'll find out what it is that plagues our heroes, until they're suddenly exposed in all their full, awful glory.

That's when Underwater suddenly mutates into a kaiju show. It's a Lovecraftian kaiju show, no doubt, but it's a jarring shift of gears when the film morphs into a completely different beast. Suddenly, the once-threatening dangers feel a little bit more like cannon fodder. Suddenly, the monsters are the size of a skyscraper. Suddenly, it's no longer about the difficulty of moving around and seeing in murky water. The objective of our heroes is to survive and be victorious. It’s just not scary anymore.

John Gallagher Jr. as Liam Smith in Underwater (PHOTO: Twentieth Century Fox)

That's not a terrible thing, since the movie does telegraph this ending well in advance. However, the rules of logic are twisted to fit the new, evolving situation that our heroes find themselves in. You wouldn't be surprised if a giant robot appeared to battle the challenges they face, since that certainly feels like what would have happened.

Which is a pity, because the set design and props were well done. So were the costumes, especially in the way the underwater suits were a necessary liability to the heroes. The underwater station truly created an environment that you could barely breathe in, but this all vanished in the shadow of the obstacle that appears at the end.

Underwater starts strong, but strange plot and directorial choices cause it to slowly leak horror as it progresses. It can be gripping at times, but you might also find yourself scratching your head with the sudden shift. Ultimately, whether you should watch the movie depends entirely on how much you like the intersection of kaiju and horror films, since it becomes more of the former and less of the latter as it progresses.

Jessica Henwick as Emily Haversham in Underwater (PHOTO: Twentieth Century Fox)

Score: 4/5

Running time: 95 min

Kristen Stewart as Norah Price and Vincent Cassel as Captain Lucien in Underwater. (PHOTO: Twentieth Century Fox)

Underwater is a horror film set under the ocean.

It is directed by William Eubank and directed by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad. It stars Kristen Stewart (Norah Price), Vincent Cassel (Captain Lucien), T.J. Miller (Paul Abel), Jessica Henwick (Emily Haversham), John Gallgaher Jr (Liam Smith), Mamoudou Athie (Rodrigo Nagenda), and Gunner Wright (Lee Miller).

Underwater opens in cinemas:
- 30 January, 2020 (Singapore)
- 15 January, 2020 (Philippines)

Vincent Cassel as Captain Lucien in Underwater. (PHOTO: Twentieth Century Fox)

Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter who writes for “Crimewatch”, as well as popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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