aquatic horror

Underwater

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A crew working in an underwater lab has been drilling into the darkest depths of the ocean. Something causes the facility to implode and flood, killing hundreds of crew. The few survivors will have to brave the intense pressure and darkness of the ocean floor, but there is something far worse waiting for them in the dark.

William Eubank (The Signal, Love) brings to life an all new aquatic horror film written by Brian Duffield (Insurgent, The Babysitter) and Adam Cozad (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Tarzan). I’m a big fan of aquatic horror films, so I’ve been looking forward to this film since the first trailer dropped. I’m happy to say the film was entertaining from start to finish. Right when Underwater starts, it wastes no time getting into the excitement. The filmmakers wisely focused on two main fears: the claustrophobic fear of being in the deep ocean and the fear of the unknown beasts that lurk in those hidden depths. Arguably, the most terrifying aspect of the film is that claustrophobia. These fears drive the plot forward with survival as the main focus. It’s a very simple plot, but effective at evoking tension and anxiety in the audience.

There is nothing wrong with a simple plot in horror. Honestly, sometimes it makes a monster movie more fun when the main goal is simply surviving a beast of unknown origin. Yet Underwater hints at a more intricate plot multiple times, but those hints never come to fruition. One of the most obvious signs that there was likely a more involved plot can be seen whenever the captain is on screen. It seems clear that he knows more than he lets on and some of his actions even come across as a bit sinister, but nothing ever comes of it. Since there are multiple writers involved and a bigger studio, I can’t help but wonder what the film started out as compared to what is currently in theaters. I do enjoy the plot as is, but I would still love to see a version with a deeper conspiracy.

Genre film lovers will likely recognize many of the faces in Underwater. Kristen Stewart (Personal Shopper, Lizzie) stars as Norah. She is a highly industrious and pragmatic character. Stewart plays Norah quite well as someone who will do what she can to survive and to save her friends, but she also clearly understands her odds of survival. Another standout performance comes from John Gallagher Jr (10 Cloverfield Lane, Hush) as Smith. I’ve often thought of Gallagher as a chameleon in genre films because he does such a great job of committing to a character that he becomes almost unrecognizable. His portrayal of the lovable Smith is no different, and he is a joy to watch. Other compelling performances come from Jessica Henwick (Game of Thrones, Iron Fist) as Emily, T.J Miller (Cloverfield, Deadpool) as Paul, and Vincent Cassel (Brotherhood of the Wolf, Black Swan) as the captain.

From the creatures to the sets to the costumes, every artistic detail of Underwater is clearly very thoroughly thought out. As an aquatic creature feature, the design of these underwater beasts is very important. Underwater utilizes CGI effects to create an array of frightening deep sea creatures. The audience will see different variations of this creature. For the most part the design makes sense for the environment these beings likely thrive in, but there are certain aspects that don’t work quite as well for me. Without giving too much away, the main creatures we see are a bit too humanoid, and one of the creature reveals almost looks like it belongs in a different movie entirely. The set and costume design are fantastic. It truly feels like the actors are in a lab with thick, sturdy walls that could still implode if even one thing goes wrong that deep in the ocean. The dive suits the actors wear are also incredible. They look as if they could actually handle the pressure of being under 6 miles of water. All of these artistic choices effectively transport the audience to an anxiety-inducing, claustrophobic setting.

Underwater is a claustrophobic creature feature that is entertaining as is, but hints at a deeper conspiracy. Eubank proves he knows how to make an edge-of-your-seat film. While it is thrilling and fun to watch, I can’t help but be curious what more there was to the plot before the film hit theaters. There are clear indications of a different film than what audiences were given. I truly enjoyed the popcorn horror flick we got. I just hope we either get a director’s cut when the film is released on Blu-ray that goes deeper or a sequel that builds on the mythos and the history of these creatures. If you haven’t seen Underwater yet, I strongly urge you to make time to see it on the big screen as it should be.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Sweetheart

sweetheart

After an apparent shipwreck, Jenn washes ashore on a remote tropical island. As if having to survive stranded on an island isn’t bad enough, as night falls Jenn realizes a deadly creature uses this island as its hunting ground. Jenn will have to battle the elements, dehydration, starvation, and the creature in order to survive.

This thrilling new aquatic horror film is directed by J.D. Dillard (Sleight, Judy Goose). Dillard also co-wrote Sweetheart along with Alex Theurer (Sleight, Intervention) and Alex Hyner, this being Hyner’s first feature film. The film opens as Jenn awakes on the shore of the tropic island. She has to quickly come to terms with the shipwreck, the likelihood that all her friends are dead, and how she will live on the island until found. Jenn proves to be a very resourceful woman, even as she is forced to fend off creature attacks each night. I’ve always been a fan of aquatic horror films, especially those with unique creatures. Sweetheart not only delivers a fantastic creature feature that is exciting to watch, but it also gives the audience a heroine they can root for.

Sweetheart may be a great creature feature, but it is also very well written. Since Jenn is on the island alone for a majority of the film, there is very little dialogue. The story is told primarily through action, which is very difficult to do in this day and age. There has to be a balance of action and exposition in order to hold the audience’s interest. Dillard, Theurer, and Hyner do a phenomenal job of maintaining this balance throughout the film. They even know when to inject moments where Jenn speaks to herself to break up the silence. Similarly, the audience only learns things as Jenn reveals them or as they are revealed to her. This leaves certain plot points a mystery. While for the most part it works well, there is one plot point that alludes to the fate of a character. While it works in the sense that we only learn as much as Jenn does, it seems almost unnecessary. It hints at something that never becomes important by the end of the film.

What I found most compelling about the writing is the subtext. There are multiple references in Sweetheart to whether or not Jenn is a trustworthy person. It references how women, especially women of color, often have a hard time getting people to believe them. In this film it’s to make people believe there is a ravenous monster lurking in the water. In the real world, it’s to make cops or other people believe they have been abused, raped, or any number of other terrible things. It’s a not-so-subtle subtext that fits in perfectly with the horror genre.

The film has a small cast, each performance being great. Kiersey Clemons (Flatliners, Dope) absolutely carries the film with her performance as Jenn. The way Jenn adapts to her situation and does what she can to defend herself is fascinating to watch. Clemons perfectly portrays Jenn’s resilience as well as her striking ability to accept her situation and rise above it. Another vital and entertaining performance comes from Andrew Crawford (Alien: Covenant, Little Monsters) as the creature. While this isn’t a speaking role, Crawford breaks through the screen as an imposing and terrifying monster. There is also an elegance about the creature and the way it moves. These two opposing forces make for quite the power struggle.

Visually, Sweetheart has a lot going for it. The tropical setting is absolutely gorgeous, which makes the presence of a monster stand out. The setting is enhanced by some absolutely gorgeous cinematography by Stefan Duscio. Duscio especially has a way of using natural light sources, such as the sunset and fire, to enhance the scene and draw the eye to specific things on screen. Then there is the creature design. In a film where there are really two characters, Jenn and the creature, the design of the creature becomes a vital piece of the film. Luckily, the filmmakers chose to go with a practical monster design that is as terrifying as it is sleek. It looks like something that could exist in the tropical setting, living in the ocean and hunting on land. Some of the creature effects are enhanced by CGI, but it’s clear that for the most part it is practically made.

Sweetheart is equal parts monster survival movie and social commentary film. Dillard, Theurer, and Hyner prove to be a fantastic filmmaking trio. They create a film with minimal dialogue that tells a powerful story of survival, resilience, and strength. While there are one or two extraneous aspects that never become fully-formed subplots, they don’t necessarily detract from the primary focus of the film. It is still a stunning film with a frightening creature and an important message: believe women.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10