If wishing could make it so, Underwater would be Alien on the ocean floor. Instead, this brazen carbon copy of Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi landmark is just all wet. Shot three years ago, this soggy horrorshow gives credence to the belief that January is the month Hollywood uses to bury its mistakes.
Director William Eubank (The Signal) and screenwriters Brian Duffield (Insurgent) and Adam Cozad (The Legend of Tarzan), perhaps believing that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, crib shamelessly from Scott’s classic. Remember how Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, the warrant officer on the spaceship Nostromo, was bedeviled by teeth-gnashing, chest-busting E.T.s? Underwater offers up Kristen Stewart’s Norah, a mechanical engineer on a station mining for minerals seven miles under the sea, is similarly harassed by creepy furies that are nowhere near as scary. Remember how Ripley famously made her escape stripped down to underwear? Norah wouldn’t do anything so crass — she opts for a sports bra.
And so the repetitive beat goes on. Underwater gets super serious about its atmospherics, involving the Kepler ocean drill and a research project at the bottom of the Mariana trench. Never mind. A corporation is behind the project, so we know it’s evil. Almost immediately, the vessel holding Norah and the crew, springs a leak. The plot follows suit. The vessel/science lab is in imminent danger of destruction; its captain (a wasted Vincent Cassel) knows the jig is up. And oxygen is running out. The only way to safety is for the crew to put on bulky diving suits and walk the ocean floor to reach the Roebuck drill station (don’t ask) where they can find a haven and transport to the surface. Cue the monsters of the deep who seem hellbent on making sure that won’t happen. The creatures are meant to express a pissed off Mother Nature seeking vengeance on greedy humans. Again? Is there nothing new under the alien sun?
Other actors in the film — condolences to the gifted John Gallagher, Jr. — are stuck playing characters the screenwriters relentlessly hose down with cliches. Yes, that is T.J. Miller as a crew member meant to provide comic relief. Since his glory days on Silicon Valley, Miller has been embroiled in controversies ranging from work misconduct allegations to police arrest for intoxication. Still, it’s no fun to see him trapped in this fiasco. Only a few impressive visual and aural touches from cinematographer Bojan Bazelli and composer Marco Beltrami to ease the pain.
Stewart, an actress of uncommon subtlety and range, gets to display neither as this poor man’s Ripley. Having risen to stardom with the Twilight saga, Stewart proved herself an art-house treasure in such films Clouds of Sils Maria, Personal Shopper and Seberg. Though it’s no sin to have a bit of paycheck fun in such flimsy throwaways as Charlie’s Angels, this water-logged rip-off is a career low that traps her playing one note of clenched anxiety from first to agonizing last. She deserves better than 95 minutes of derivative dumbness. So does the audience.