MOVIE REVIEW: Why Stewart survives dive into disaster zone
Director: William Eubank
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, T.J. Miller
Running time: 95 minutes
Verdict: A no-nonsense disaster movie
By the age of 22, Kirsten Stewart had already survived four vampire romances. She's more than a match for Underwater's malevolent, Jules Verne-style sea monster.
Formerly known as a Twilight star, the actor, now 29, continues to reinvent herself with this brutally efficient deep-sea disaster movie, which never once surfaces for air.
The ice-blonde buzz cut Stewart sports for the new role leaves her with nowhere to hide.
She meets that challenge with a luminous performance that relegates the mythic leviathan that is hunting her to more of a supporting role.
Which is why Underwater works better as an ocean floor thriller than it does as a creepy creature feature - director William Eubank doesn't have Ridley Scott's talent for conjuring visceral terror from a limited budget (despite a clear debt, here, to Alien.)
Assuming moviegoers already know the drill, Underwater doesn't waste any time on preamble. The film opens with a scene-setting voice over narration from Stewart's resourceful engineer, Norah, as she scrutinises herself in the mirror while cleaning her teeth.
The "lived-in" quality of her living quarters - 9.5km below sea level - stands in marked contrast to the sterile, ultra-modern production design that characterises the majority of sci-fi movies.
Jackets hang untidily on hooks. Walls are scuffed. Facilities are basic.
Norah hasn't even had time to lace herself into her runners - we already know this is a mistake - before the drilling rig she has called home for the past six months begins to implode around her.
She has minutes to find a temporary refuge. While we can understand her panic, she probably doesn't need to bang on the doors of her "sleeping" co-workers as she races past.
Mamoudou Athie's greenhorn, the only other survivor on her floor, turns out to be handy in a tight squeeze. And that moment comes sooner than either of them would have liked. A significant portion of the characters' dialogue is muddy to the point of inaudibility, but in a film as kinetic as this, that doesn't matter as much as one might expect.
By the time Nora and Rodrigo have located their captain (played, against type, by Vincent Cassel) in the now-empty escape pod bay, they have collected another co-worker from the rubble - played by stand-up comedian T.J. Miller, whose timing - and delivery - are impeccable.
Two more researchers round out the small team whose only chance of survival is to trek a couple of kilometres across the ocean floor, in pitch black, in suits designed only to survive a few minutes in this pressurised environment.
The physical confines of their environment feel a lot like space - only without the lofty perspective - and Eubank is crafty enough to ensure his audience is holding their breath for a good portion of the film.
There is nothing in Underwater that we haven't seen done before. But the action is tense,
the atmosphere suitably claustrophobic, and as a star vehicle for Stewart, the film is remarkably sturdy.
Opens January 23