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