Released: 23rd January
Seen: 8th August
Alien knockoffs seem to be making a huge comeback as of late and I gotta admit, I’m weirdly enjoying seeing just what people do as part of their homage to the classic space horror. Just since starting this blog I’ve run into Life, which was Alien without the female protagonist and an ending that might be one of my favourite surprise endings in recent years.
Then there was Cloverfield Paradox which is Alien if it was the ship trying to kill them all instead of an Alien creature (and I was certainly a little too nice to it back then, I was early in my reviewing life). Well, the new entry into “Alien, except…” is Underwater, which is Alien except it takes place at the bottom of the ocean.
The reason the film takes place at the bottom of the ocean is because Underwater takes place on a deep sea mining vessel run by a team of scientists. The main scientist who we’ll be following is Norah Price (Kristen Stewart) who seems to be the electronics wiz but we really don’t get a chance to know much about the crew and what they do before the vessel they’re on suffers from some extreme damage and begins to crumble around them.
The crew’s only chance of surviving is to walk along the ocean floor to another nearby station where there might be some escape pods. They just have to do this while dealing with the intense water pressure that could crush them at any second, a lack of oxygen and a weird underwater creature that keeps popping up.
Taking Alien and putting it underwater is a genuinely fascinating idea because it introduces a lot of new dangers that weren’t in the original. Death by extreme pressure wasn’t something I expected to happen in Alien, but Underwater sets up quickly that it could happen at any second. In fact, Underwater is pretty good at setting up the danger as quickly as humanly possible because it only has an hour and a half and you need to be constantly wondering when something’s going to crush our main characters.
The film wastes no time whatsoever, almost cutting the entire concept down to the bare bones of what’s needed in this kind of movie. It’s tension and violence slowly ratchet up and you know anyone and everyone could die at any moment and that’s genuinely terrifying… if I cared about any of these characters but because the first time we meet most of them is while they’re frantically running for their lives, I don’t.
Hell, one of them is noted bomb threat maker and transphobic asshat T.J. Miller so I’m not exactly going to feel sorry when his entire character seems to be “T.J. Miller is somehow permitted to be in movies and ad lib whatever resembles a character”. His presence brings the film down substantially for me because I do not like him, so your mileage may vary there.
In general this film does suffer from trying to be Alien underwater and sometimes that works in their favor, sometimes you can almost see where someone took the original Alien scene and scribbled “But it’s wet” in the margins to signify the new location. The scene where they find and bring the underwater creature on board just looks like an alternate take from a much better movie with much better characters and a more intimidating and memorable villain. Not that this film isn’t good, it’s very good but when you look at the great film it’s clearly copied you can see how little has been changed here.
Underwater is still a tense thrilling ride with some good performances and shocking scenes that make you sit up and pay close attention, there’s nothing that can take away from that. But it’s also a borderline carbon copy of one of the most famous films of all time and it barely even tries to hide it. It’s still a good film, but it can’t equal what it’s obviously trying to match.