MOVIE REVIEW: Underwater

Underwater, no one can hear you scream!
(unless of course they have a mic in their dive suit helmet and you do too, and then you can definitely hear them scream but I digress)


It’s easier to just get the comparisons out of the way right off the bat. The hot take will be that “Underwater” is “Alien” at the bottom of the ocean. And, of course, there’s some truth to that, or people wouldn’t be saying it. Sure, “Underwater” follows a female primary protagonist, who is part of a crew trying to stay alive amidst the presence of mythical deadly creatures, but much of the film plays out a lot more straightforward than you might expect, instead resembling a traditional natural disaster escape movie.

Narratively, “Underwater” isn’t too deep (heh), and that’s perfectly alright. Director William Eubank makes a great choice utilizing the credits sequence to provide background information that normally would be delivered via boring, pace-slowing exposition. Instead, a collection of newspaper articles, scientific papers, and memos flashing behind the credits tell us that our setting is a drill site in the Mariana Trench, where the deepest drilling in history is taking place, and that reports of mysterious shadowy creatures have been made. Once inside Kepler Station, we meet Norah (Kristen Stewart), reflecting on the isolation and timelessness of life in the deep while brushing her teeth. Within minutes, though, a breach of the station hull occurs due to an earthquake and what follows is a 90-minute rush to rescue, survive, and escape. Along the way, Norah, a mechanical engineer, teams up with fellow survivors. They include a wise-cracking, Alice in Wonderland obsessed goof played by T.J. Miller (who surprisingly has a few jokes actually land), their calm and collected Captain (Vincent Cassell) of the station, and a few others. The Captain proposes a dangerous plan where they will don their deep-sea suits, descend, and then traverse the nearly 7-mile deep ocean floor to reach another station that still has working escape pods. They all know it’s insane, but they have no choice. What follows is a suspenseful group effort to stay alive; some do, some don’t. At times it definitely gets ridiculous and some of the more chaotic action is nearly incoherent in the dark watery setting, but mostly it’s a hell of a lot of fun, with the dialogue kept at a minimum and the propulsive intensity dialed up high throughout. Stewart is a capable lead and her considerable talent is on display, even when not really necessary. She carries an emotional weight for the crew that elevated the film for me, and she is also a part of the film’s most memorable monster moment.

The concept of “Underwater” certainly could have been presented in a longer, smarter, and more dramatically heavy film – one that isn’t so predictable, doesn’t play fast and loose with science, and gives a more thorough explanation about the creatures encountered. But that’s not this movie, and as I said in the beginning, that’s okay. What “Underwater” does is deliver a fast-paced, claustrophobic, action-thriller (backed by an excellent Marco Beltrami/Brandon Roberts score) that works perfectly fine without sea monster aliens even introduced, but that takes joy in leaning into its creature feature third act. It’s wild and at times silly, but I had a great time watching it and would gladly sit through it again when it releases on home video. Not every movie needs to have depth (heh again) to be entertaining, even if its title makes you think otherwise.


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Personal Shopper

Kristen Stewart is a polarizing actress. It took me a while to come around on her. Her brooding personality and the pained expression of someone who seemed to want to be anywhere else on the planet, set her off on the wrong foot with movie fans uninvested in choosing sides between Team Edward and Team Jacob. It’s taken some time, but she continues to shake the stigma of those Twilight films, and has proven herself worthy of recent acclaim for her work in indies such as Still Alice and Clouds of Sils Maria. In what could be her best work to date, she teams up again with her Clouds director Oliver Assayas, in Personal Shopper.

Maureen (Stewart) is seeking something. Many things actually. As a medium, she seeks to make contact with her deceased brother, looking to make good on a sibling promise in which the first to die would attempt to make contact from the other side, proving that something exists after we leave this mortal coil. Trying to determine whether her encounters with the spiritual realm are truly her brother is a more difficult challenge, and she is often haunted by the task both literally and as a sense of duty. We first meet her wandering the dark halls of a mansion that may have been ripped from the mind of Guillermo Del Toro. There is a slow burn of unease that builds throughout the film’s opening minutes, but Assayas’ ideas are bigger than simply setting us up with cliche horror tropes, even though there are a couple of genuinely unnerving moments.

Maureen also seeks identity. As a personal shopper to a young, wealthy socialite, she often reflects on her desire for a better path in life, yet she lingers, generally as unnoticed as the spirits that routinely haunt her. She obsessively seeks truths from beyond as she dutifully scans racks of designer clothes and high priced jewels to outfit her employer’s lavish lifestyle.

Even the relationships she does have, with her employer and her sister-in-law specifically, seem to move about her in a quickened pace, leaving Maureen alone with her thoughts on many occasions. It’s here where Stewart is at her best, and her natural, moody personality tends to play as a strength during her extended moments of personal reflection. She excels when she has nothing to say, and that isn’t a criticism.

The biggest interaction she has in the film however, is with her phone and the anonymous stalker that texts her for the better half of the second act. I feel like Assayas plays with this trope a little too long, building up a tension that ultimately doesn’t pay off as satisfactorily as I had wanted. But, it all serves a grander purpose, as Maureen is forced to self examine herself in a way she hadn’t been willing to do before. She is forced to confront her fears. She admittedly wants to be scared, and it takes the realizations posited by an unnamed and unseen person to bring her to this point.

Personal Shopper isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It rides a fine line between ghost story and thriller, but neither is really the point. This is a story about finding an identity and a purpose, and allowing for self discovery in the process. There is a quiet beauty to Personal Shopper, much like Clouds of Sils Maria without the shots of the lush Swiss countryside. There is a lot to unpack in this film, and trying to decipher all the subtext and metaphor may occupy you for a bit after the credits roll, but that’s what fills my bucket as a movie fan. Or, you might find this to be a boring, pointless slog, which is of course your prerogative. If you hated Clouds of Sils Maria, this might challenge your patience as well. But it won’t be because of that girl from Twilight.