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Underwater 2020 ***

‘You sweet, flat-chested elfin creature,’ is how Kristen Stewart gets described in Underwater, a slick, predictable but enjoyable horror/action hybrid that takes a lead from the highlights of the Alien franchise. Filmed in 2017, but sneaking out in 2020 as the last film under the 20th Century Fox banner now absorbed into Disney, it’s clear that Underwater’s belated release is a contractual obligation rather than a passion project; still, it’s a big film with a great star, and it’s far better than most of the misfits that appear in the January/February dump-slot.

It’s possible to imagine an alternate universe where Underwater is the big blockbuster of the year; about 1995 would seem like prime-time for William Eubank’s film, which hits the ground running as Norah Price (Stewart) struggles to protect the crew of the Kepler Minig station from a series of explosions, deep in the Mariana trench. Price manages to rescue her Captain (Vincent Cassel) and together they look for a way out, but there’s something in the water that doesn’t want them to leave. Before you can say Leviathan, Deep Rising, Deep Star Six or any number of genre titles, Price finds herself embarking on a hazardous walk across the sea-bed, with all kinds of Lovecraftian creatures in wait for her.

Underwater is a cut above most creature features, and suggests a project that could easily have been released under the Cloverfield banner. The timing of the film’s release give Stewart an uneviable 123 combo of flops, with Charlie’s Angels and Seberg barely making an impression, and yet the mark of a real star is that they’re good in everything, and Stewart is terrific in all three films. An action woman who doesn’t need any help from men, she’s got this, and manages to be the Ripley that Underwater needs. The gear shifts might be generic, but the dialogue has the right salty feel; “When you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there,’ is a good way to describe the miles of bad road that Price has to navigate.

It’s a shame that Underwater is being so comprehensively buried, and that this is seemingly the last gasp of the Fox imprint; the consolation that that Eubank’s film is a good example of the kind of lean, futuristic action movie that Fox did so well, but it’s unlikely that Disney will want to do at all. With the number of action movies, teen movies, comedies and other genres decreasing at the multiplex, it’s a shame that this kind of tough action movie is an endangered species. Stewart will go on to bigger and better things, but Underwater gives a spirited last hurrah for a lock-and-load ‘soldiers vs monsters’ thrill-ride.

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  1. I might have to try to give this one a shot after reading this, but I (everyone boo me) am not a Kristen Stewart fan. I’ve not cared for anything I’ve seen her in and it always seems to me like she’s trying to be Emma Watson.

  2. I thought the trailers suggested a throwback to the underwater creature movies of the ’80s like DeepStar Six and Leviathan. Seemed cheesy, but I’m still looking forward to it.

  3. Agreed. Easy to be sentimental about this kind of film, but intensity is still a tried and tested formula at the box office. I don’t see many signs of the Fox formula getting a chance via Disney. Given your tag line of ‘express elevator to hell’, I imagine you have the same vibe!

  4. Underwater being the last official release of 20 C. Fox is appropriate if its tone and aesthetic are as you describe. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the studio birthed so many grungy, sci-fi horror and sci-fi-action films that were all, to a large extent, descendants of the sci-fi horror and action forerunners that were Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986).

    Much of the shame of Fox’s merger with Disney — in addition to yet more corporate consolidation — is that we’re losing what little variety we have left in Hollywood. Then again, diversity was long in decline before the Disney-Fox merger, so perhaps streaming really is the future for all weird, sidestream genre movies out there.

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