Underwater Feels

If you don’t like being in or imagining enclosed spaces, proceed with caution.

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The trailers for Underwater (William Eubank, 2020) suggest that a small team of scientifically, mechanically, and even geologically inclined subterranean personnel have a job to complete and there’s something in the water that they must investigate and defeat in order to accomplish their task.  And based on the atmosphere and genre(s) of the film, one might be anticipating science-fiction horror tropes (a la Pandorum or the Alien franchise) and ensemble cast psychological breakdown cliches (think any horror, action, or suspense film where each person in a group functions in a specific way to create tension and induce frustration from the viewer; there’s nearly always the one who mutinies and then things go really bad for everyone).

Yes, there is a (very) small team in Underwater that has to get from point A to point B, but the aforementioned motifs do not present themselves as expected.  There is little to no introduction to the individual members of the group.  The film opens with Norah (Kristen Stewart) brushing her teeth and within a couple of minutes, all hell breaks loose and she along with her mission mates are vaulted into full survival mode.

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Pic cred: IMDB/Twentieth Century Fox

Something has destroyed the integrity of their workstation and water is powerfully and quickly seeping into the corridors.  From that moment on until the final five minutes of the ninety-five minute film, there is a lot of running, crawling, mumbling, screaming, anxiety-laced walking, and mouth-breathing.  So much mouth-breathing — narratively or tonally justified or not, if you cannot tolerate that sound but still want to watch Underwater, wait until you’re able to do so while muting the relevant moments.

I like Kristen Stewart‘s persona and work, so I had to watch this film.  It was not what I assumed it would be in terms of story or thematic formula.  As an example of the science-fiction horror genre, it adheres to the continual manifestation of suspense because the characters are often unable to see more than a few feet in front of them (and they as well as the audience have seen the marine monsters in full, thus, it’s just a matter of who dies and when).  The camera also adopts the characters’ perspective from inside and just outside their helmets, which heightens the sense of claustrophobia.

Underwater is worth a theatre screening if you’re slightly curious about what happens.  It doesn’t require too much emotional or intellectual investment, there’s a stuffed bunny that serves as a quasi-running gag, and the only time you’re compelled to shout at the movie is when Kristen Stewart doesn’t put on her shoes and socks (but only if you’re the kind of person who would put on your shoes and socks first and not think about how those thirty seconds could mean the difference between life or death).

After the Weddings

In a reality where people seeking life advice can find advice columns, confessional blog posts and vlogs, and then be pleasantly surprised that they aren’t alone in their confusion, misery, or helplessness, maybe the number of original fictional stories is quite small.  Between literature, films, and even songs that inspire other forms of art to official remakes, it shouldn’t come as a shock that different people can have the same struggles.  Whereas a retelling pair such as Sabrina (1954, 1995) leaves an unfulfilling taste in the mouth, the remake exercise in After the Wedding is successful.

Susanne Bier‘s original of the same name came out thirteen years before the Bart Freundlich‘s filmic mirror image (2019).

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Although I admire the talent and have liked many of the films that Michelle Williams, Billy Crudup, and Julianne Moore have been in over the years, because I had seen and loved the original first, I was reluctant to see the remake — thirteen years is not a long time to make a film again (especially one that wasn’t a disaster and starred Mads Mikkelsen).  I decided to give the American version a try because I really, really wanted to buy a DVD when I was at Barnes and Noble over the weekend.

The storyline of both films is nearly identical: in order to secure funding, the manager of an orphanage in India must fly to the headquarters of a company willing to donate a considerable sum of money.  Professional and personal boundaries mix awkwardly as the manager and the donor discover they are much closer than they could have imagined.  The manager and donor are male characters in Bier’s film (played respectively by Mads Mikkelsen and Rolf Lassgard); they are female characters in Freundlich’s film (portrayed respectively by Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore).  The donor’s spouse (a wife [Sidse Babett Knudsen] in the original and a husband [Billy Crudup] in the remake) and a daughter constitute the details behind some of the secrets that surface — the film’s title refers to what happens after the daughter gets married.

The bones and breath of both films are essentially mirror images of each other.  The blood and muscle differ in nuanced ways that offer complementary perspectives on how certain decisions made by a mother and a father can impact the other people in their lives. If there are seminars in film school on how to do a remake and not mess it up, both After the Weddings should be included in the curriculum.

An unexpected observation I made while watching the American version and re-watching the Danish one is that both Julianne Moore and Mads Mikkelsen are flawless in making me believe that they are whatever occupation their character has.  Moore has been among many things a housewife, a pornstar, a high school teacher, a forensic psychiatrist, a gynecologist, a linguistics professor, and a media mogul in After the Wedding.  Mikkelsen has been among many things a butcher, a husband, a drug pusher, one of King Arthur’s men, a Bond villain, Igor Stravinsky, a psychologist with an exotic palette, and the manager of an orphanage in After the Wedding.  I would believe either of them in any job, which to me is part of good acting.  It’s not just about exhibiting the character’s body language or saying the lines well — it’s about envisioning the actor being or doing what this character is and does everyday.