This is going to be short because, unlike our usual podcasts, I don’t wanna to spoil a thing.*
You’re here, you like horror. You should watch Underwater.
That’s the main takeaway from this piece, you don’t really need to read further, just make a note of it and make every effort to see it.
Still need convincing? Wondering why I’m telling you to see a film that came out earlier 2020 and met with distinctly mixed critical reaction?...maybe you should read further.
I’m going to take a few headlines from some of the negative reviews Underwater has had:
“Thin characters and bland monsters”
“The Abyss meets Aliens”
I’m not one to review a review (Ed- who reviews the reviewers?), reviewing is as much about our preferences and opinions as a subjective take, but it helps me show you why I think you should watch Underwater and I’m going to do it by talking about another movie**.
A point of contention between the three Hermanos is one particular film which, unless I’m not mistaken, in my fellow hermanos views straddles the gulf of sublime and crock’o’shite. The 1997 Sci Fi Horror from Paul W.S Anderson, Event Horizon.
Nick hates it, Ed thinks it's Paul W.S Anderson's best work (you may recall what he thought of Resident Evil…) and to me: it is the film that made me love horror. At some point we’ll put together a podcast on Event Horizon (maybe if/when the original cut sees the light of day will be the moment) and we’ll go deep, but for now I just want you to realise that the person who is telling you to see Underwater considers Event Horizon one of his favourite films and still gets creeped out by it.
Much like Underwater, Event Horizon was not reviewed favourably.
Entertainment Weekly’s review refers to Event Horizon as a ‘melangé of Alien, Fantastic Voyage and The Shining’. I remember reading another review that called it Haunted House meets Aliens.
If you take the time to look at other reviews of Event Horizon you’ll see further similarities to Underwater in the critical mauling they both had. Comments including how ‘it doesn’t make sense’ and it’s ‘all effects with no purpose’ are a common theme in the reviews. The main difference I noted in the reviews for the two films was that Laurence Fishbourne always seems to gets praise for bringing his A game in Event Horizon (he is brilliant) and I’m at an absolute loss to explain how Kristen Stewart didn’t get similar levels of praise for Underwater. She is utterly magnetic in her role, imbuing Norah with strength and compassion whilst clearly dealing with the trauma that led to her taking a position on a mining rig at the bottom of the Mariana Trench (not a spoiler….it’s in the pre-credits sequence).
I’m also surprised there weren’t more comparisons of her portrayal of Norah to Ripley beyond reviews generally pointing out Aliens similarities. Norah and Ripley are clearly cut from the same cloth, but I’d like to think Sigourney Weaver would have been impressed by the nuance Kristen Stewart brings to the character. Ed and I have used the phrase ‘a lesser actor’ before where we’ve felt a movie hinged on a brilliant lead performance and this is a top example which made me so surprised to read ‘thin characters’. I’ve ambled ever so slightly into the territory of talking about Underwater, so let’s rein it back in. Reviews savaged Event Horizon as being a smorgasbord of other influences. I don’t disagree that it is, but I completely disagree that it’s either a bad thing or poorly executed. The Shining, Fantastic Voyage and Alien….together…in one film….YES PLEASE!
I felt there were considerably more obvious reference points (Hellraiser and The Thing come to mind) than the cursory few films Event Horizon was accused of being derivative of, but the difference, and why I think this has become such a talked about film since its release and panning, is that it understood what was horrifying and great about every one of the reference points and sought to sew them together in a tapestry (a skin suit tapestry if you will (Ed- and I will)) that was every bit as engrossing as it’s forebears.
Which is why ‘bland monsters’ as a criticism for Underwater surprised me (again, not a criticism of the review, I just didn’t see it that way). If director William Eubank wasn’t calling on Cthulu when he produced his Underwater monsters I’ll be as shocked as a space captain whose just noticed his special advisor is missing his eyes.
I have wondered whether some of the reviews that were disparaging about Event Horizon didn’t see the same brilliance of combining a B-movie with a big budget, a top cast and influences from some of the greatest critical successes of the genre as I did.
I’ve also wondered why having a list of influences as long as the end credits is so often a bad thing in film, whereas in music it’s often a good thing...
If someone says to me they have a band I should listen to and it mixes bits of punk, rock n roll, metal, blues and a bit of swing…I’m interested…mainly because I think you’re describing Appetite for Destruction. So if a review says “Aliens, Fantastic Voyage and The Shining”, or “The Abyss meets Alien”, I’m all in. Sprinkle a bit of Lovecraftian terror in and you’ve really got to have made a car crash of a film for me to leave unhappy.
So, if you’ve read up to here, and you’ve still not made your mind up ask yourself these simple questions:
· Did you like Event Horizon, but maybe not so keen on the gore?
· Is the claustrophobic tension of Aliens something that tickles your horror loving fancy?
· Have you ever wondered what a Lovecraftian nightmare at the bottom of the deepest parts of the ocean would look like with a decent budget thrown against it?
If you’re answering yes to any of those questions then Underwater is the film for you.
You should see Underwater.
*if you read that in the tune of Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing then like me you’ve been in lockdown too long. Also, I lied about it being short.
**Except that I can’t help but point out that the Underwater suits are the nearest thing I’ve seen on film to a Warhammer 40K Space Marine/Gears of War outfit. That too is awesome.