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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Surpassing Leviathan
by Richard Jack Smith

The world's oceans still pose a mystery to us. What unseen creatures and habitats lurk beneath the waves? Therefore, storytellers in print and celluloid have imagined various scenarios. Memorably, author Jules Verne took us 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, while James Cameron's film The Abyss made water tentacles a subject of intense fascination. In Underwater, does director William Eubank deliver a monster worthy of Verne, or do bubbles tease the prospect of something better?

Verily, Eubank's film plays upon a trifecta of worries. Those uncomfortable with claustrophobia, drowning and isolation might find a nerve or two frayed. Yet there's another concern for the excavation crew working 6,000 feet below sea level, and that's pressure. The hull of the main facility ends up compromised, possibly due to an earthquake. At that depth, bodies unprotected from the elements would be crushed instantly. Adding to this litany of potential disasters, some gnarly creatures have appeared. They brush and scrape against the structure, hoping to munch on their new food source: the six remaining survivors. The latter huddle in the dark, with plans to venture outside in the hopes of reaching safety. Yet how would you feel ambling around as monsters prowl nearby?

Mostly, I embraced the premise of Underwater due to its authentic concerns. Dangerous moments are handled efficiently, while the music -- mostly sound design from Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts -- seems to aid the dark and threatening milieu. As such, the drones eschew sentimentality or the basic need to band aid the viewer's tremulous emotional state. 

Perhaps best known for the Twilight saga, Kristen Stewart might seem an odd choice. Asking her to run through collapsing corridors, while gasping for air and squeezing through tight spaces would require massive support from the visual and practical effects departments. No problems there, of course. Also, she doesn't pose for the camera as she anchors the frame. It's a quiet and convincing turn overall.

At one point, Underwater appears to tread a weary path, possibly departing from the suspense in favour of a silly reveal. Such a circumstance affected George P. Cosmatos' Leviathan and Sean S. Cunningham's DeepStar Six. Both thrillers deserved better final acts.

Thankfully, Underwater surpasses those efforts. Although the film might not hold up as a cult classic, the entertainment value felt heightened by the aforementioned bouts of terror, some good performances and impressive set pieces. 

(Available on HBO Max and rated “PG-13” by MPAA.)

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