Director William Eubank understands the essentials of a satisfying B-movie creature feature. You need a good creature design, a compelling lead we want to see survive and a quick pace to keep the thrills coming along. Underwater checks all these boxes. While it may not be anything groundbreaking, it gets the job done effectively.
The plot is bare. After an explosion destroys much of the main drilling facility seven miles undersea, a small group of survivors makes a scary journey across the seafloor to another station that has escape pods. Think Alien underwater, which also describes a whole slew of aquatic terror films. Norah (Kristen Stewart) is the lead character we follow as she helps lead the Captain (Vincent Cassel), Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie), Smith (John Gallagher Jr.) Emily (Jessica Henwick) and Paul (TJ Miller) to safety. Limited oxygen supplies and falling debris are the least of their worries as there is some kind of creatures hunting them.
The film kicks off five minutes in with a fantastic sequence as the main station is destroyed. From there, the pacing is brisk and rarely lets up. Underwater disposes of a chunk of exposition during the opening credits. Eubank is more interested in getting to the underwater thrills and to his credit, he pulls off more than one tense sequence. The frenetic opening and pace keep the audience from thinking too much about the silliness of the plot.
Stewart also helps keep the audience engaged. She is sympathetic here and adds a lot to the character. We see her thinking all the time, trying to figure out the best next move. She anchor's the film even when the presence of TJ Miller threatens to sink it. His comic relief here is abysmal and a mark of the film's long road to getting released.
If you are looking for depth in character and plot, Underwater is not going to deliver. What it does do is provide a fun experience full of great visuals, stunning creature designs and solid jump scares. The production design is top-notch, making it convincing to believe in what is happening. Occasionally, the film gets murky and makes the action hard to follow but mostly it is visually striking. The science of it all may be dumb as nails but who cares, this is a movie about a new breed of sea monster for crying out loud.
Underwater is a solid aquatic horror film that manages to take influences from Alien and H.P. Lovecraft while still being distinct enough. Stewart is captivating in it and gives us someone to root for. The supporting cast, Miller aside, is good as well. The fast pace and visual flair are enough to forgive its lack of character development and horror movie logic.