Movie review: ‘Underwater’ is soggy sci-fi monster movie

Dana Barbuto
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Plaquemine Post South

One second a woman is brushing her teeth; the next, the walls shake, lights flicker, water rushes in, people scream. The woman must act fast or everyone will die. That’s the chaotic opening to “Underwater,” a soggy “Alien” knockoff and the latest entry in Hollywood’s annual January fire sale, when studios trot out their less-than-stellar merchandise.

At least it has Kristen Stewart starring as the woman practicing ill-timed oral hygiene. Cynical and tough as always, her Norah leads a crew of scientists scrambling to escape an underwater drilling station seven miles beneath the ocean surface. Outfitted with a peroxide-washed buzz cut, Norah is the station’s ace mechanical engineer, which apparently involves opening a lot of doors. Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, she most definitely is not.

Joining her on this deep-sea Poseidon adventure are her captain (a wasted Vincent Cassel) and fellow scientists, played by John Gallagher Jr. (“The Newsroom”), Jessica Henwick (“Game of Thrones”), Mamoudou Athie (“The Front Runner”) and T.J. Miller (“Silicon Valley”), adding what’s supposed to be comic relief. The six survivors are attempting to reach the evacuation transport pods but their path is blocked by malfunctioning equipment, wreckage, rubble, and dwindling supplies of oxygen, all caused by what is believed to be an earthquake. Where’s Aquaman when you need him?

Spoiler alert! The tremor wasn’t shifting geographical plates; it’s a mysterious and ravenous species of deep-water predators, this film’s version of the chest-bursting xenomorphs from “Alien.” The creatures represent Mother Nature, who credibly feels ripped off and disrespected by the crew mining her precious minerals. The script, by Brian Duffield (“Insurgent”) and Adam Cozad (“The Legend of Tarzan”), also touches on themes of love and sacrifice. Aaah!

It also demands Stewart do a lot of the heavy lifting in what amounts to a subaquatic haunted house. Channeling Ripley once again, Stewart spends a chunk of time running around clad in her skivvies. Give her underwear an MVP award because those black bikinis stayed put, when a lesser-quality garment would have ridden right up in all the wrong places. That would have made maneuvering and fending off those threatening life forms even more uncomfortable.

Stewart, known as an art-house darling (“Clouds of Sils Maria,” “Personal Shopper”), takes a risk in taking on a genre role. She does her level best to squeeze emotion from material that is … well, all wet … drowning in clichés and soaked in stupidity. Water puns are fun.

“Underwater” is from Holyoke native William Eubank, a cinematographer-turned-director working on a follow-up to his trippy sci-fi mind-bender “The Signal.” But his third time as a director is definitely not a charm, crippled by a script rife with laughable “you-got-this” dialogue, cheap jump scares and far too familiar imagery that’s all instantly forgettable. No wonder it’s been relegated to the January junk pile.

Dana Barbuto may be reached at or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.


Cast: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, T.J. Miller, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher, Jr., Mamadou Athie.

(PG-13 for sci-fi action and terror, and brief strong language.)

Grade: C