One of my biggest fears are giant underwater monsters. The image of a small boar with a massive shadow beneath darkens my pants. I had to stop playing Final Fantasy XV because that boss fight with the water spirit made me too scared (and don’t get me started on that Shadow of the Colossus boss). It makes me that scared so this movie comes in with an advantage.
The movie wants to be Alien. It follows Kristen Stewart’s Nora, a mechanical engineer on an underwater drill in the Marianas Trench. During a normal day the drill gets hit by the earthquake. She meets with survivors and must make a plan to escape. Only something may be stalking them, and possibly caused the accident. That may not seem like Alien, but it thinks it is.
It is set in an uninhabitable place for humans, it features a crew of normal people, a corrupt company (it has one good line from an automated bot saying to talk to your boss if you have a complaint, not pass it up), a creature bursts out of someone, and we get a bigger version of that creature later. It is not as good as Alien. It’s actually kind of dull.
By kind of I mean I closed my eyes for a second and almost nodded off. That’s not because (it is but, it’s more complicated) the movie is badly produced. Instead it is more predictable, and inconsistently shot. Every beat is easily called when we get to it. This person is going to die here, that person there, fake out, big reveal, BIG reveal, etc. It gets muddled with the camera work. It starts with very steady, slow paced camera movement, only the second it gets crazy the camera makes everything an unreadable mess. Lots of shaking and cuts to imply action. All of that gets worse when the group is in the water. The added blur of ocean, flash lights, and quick movements make it even worse to parse the action. Then the added use of GoPro like footage made it feel like it had multiple ways it was planned to be filmed and they decided to do all of them instead of pick just one.
It does not help matters that the characters aren’t great. The acting is passable enough. Kristen Stewart is better than any Twilight haters gave her credit for, but she still doesn’t emote well. She may act different even as her expression is the same. She is no Ripley, but she works in a pinch. The rest of the cast fill in their roles. The hard-edge captain, the newbie, the veteran, and the prankster. This isn’t the place to talk about TJ Miller. He’s a creep and it feels bad complimenting him, but he seems to pull off that natural, nervous joking style very well, and made him at least engaging to keep around (in the film).
The characters are not great, but the jumbled setup does not help. If we are going back to Alien. It was just the one loose on the ship hunting them. That was it. In this it mixes a natural disaster movie with a monster movie and it does not work. I’m engaged with the disaster portion. The way the characters come up with solutions to get out of jams is good. It’s not The Martian, but it’s cool seeing smart people be smart. The second the creatures get involved it becomes too nebulous and not interesting.
The nebulous nature comes from it wanting to not just be Alien, but HP Lovecraft, and Call of Cthulhu (or The Wake by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy. A great graphic novel you should read. I doubt they looked at it, but maybe a little). Not to give away the plot, but there is a giant creature, and one character has a conspiracy board that points the trench to Cthulhu. There is also the idea that the pressure from being on the rig too long confuses you, and Nora says something about only being either awake or dreaming. None of that really materializes. It’s just there to make some surface (ha, pun!) connections to the work. It all rings hollow even as I’m sure this is the closest we will get to visualizing the creatures in real life.
If you must see the movie (I don’t recommend it) it would be for the visuals. Mostly just the physical sets and prop design work. They all feel really well designed, had care put into how the interior bases would be set up, and give each space more character than the people in it. The effects work is fine because it is underwater and dark, but it doesn’t sell. I’m sure there are wonderful art pages full of detail that was not brought to the screen. I can respect the film on that level even as it jumbled everything else.
With me being so negative it might surprise you that it scared me. All the tense walking underwater did get me. The sound design of the settling and creaking rig mixed with the creature movement is a great trick that got me. I am still terrified that all the things we see could be down there. In one scene one of the creatures swallows a person whole (or tries, it doesn’t work but still so scary). Just seeing how small we are compared to the things below haunts me more than having to give credit to TJ Miller.
Oh my gosh I never even mentioned how pointless, bland, and badly delivered Kristen Stewart’s voice over is in this movie that didn’t need it for some reason!
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