Kristen Stewart

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

Personal Shopper

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Maureen is a young American living and working as a personal shopper in Paris. She recently lost her twin brother to a heart defect that Maureen has as well. Also like her brother, Maureen may possess the abilities of a medium. As she attempts to contact her brother’s spirit she exposes herself to dangers she doesn’t understand. Someone, or something, is trying to make contact. Whatever is trying to reach out to Maureen will change her life forever.

The plot of personal shopper is relatively unique, but what makes it truly stand out is the way the film was pieced together. This isn’t a film that necessarily has a typical beginning, middle, and end. It feels more true to life in that there isn’t a linear story, instead the film flows with the ins and outs of Maureen’s daily life. There is also a lack of the expositional scenes audiences are used to when watching traditional narrative films. This style is very similar to what was done in the Golden Globe nominated film, 20th Century Women. Some may be put off by this style, especially since it does not lay the who, what, when, where, why out on a silver platter. I personally enjoy this method of storytelling because of the realism it adds to the film. This particular method also enhances the high fashion aspect. Maureen is a personal shopper for a high profile model, and that means she has access to fantastic haute couture clothing. When that is combined with the realistic storytelling the result is a raw and gorgeous film.

There is also a constant presence of death throughout the film, whether it be ghosts, thoughts of Maureen’s deceased brother, or her own impending mortality. Since she was a child, she has experienced the paranormal because she and her brother are mediums. Then when he dies of a heart defect that Maureen also has, death is brought into the forefront of her life. It is no longer static in the background, but something she has to face and learn to no longer fear. In a sense her brother’s death helps her to live her life the way she wants because there is no way to know when her time is up. She has to learn to accept and live with the idea of death because it is all around her.

There are a few downfalls to the plot. One scene is specifically bothersome. In it Maureen is having a conversation about her brother’s spirit with a friend’s boyfriend. The dialogue for this scene is choppy and sounds unnaturally forced. It is one of a few scenes where the dialogue sounds awkward. Additionally, there are a couple scenes that don’t make much sense or feel irrelevant. Some of this can be written off as part of the unique storytelling format, but one specific scene involves events implying a ghost is present. What makes it odd is that the ghostly presence is not explained or even acknowledged in any way. Again, this is likely due to the format of the film, but it definitely detracts a bit from the plot.

This film focuses almost solely on the protagonist. Many people will know Kristen Stewart as Bella from the Twilight franchise. In Personal Shopper she plays the complicated main character, Maureen. Historically the only film I have thought Stewart could act in was Panic Room. Luckily, Stewart seems to have broken the Twilight curse. Her performance in Personal Shopper is evocative, grounded, and she brings the character to life in a way I have not seen from her before. I will say there are times in the film where Stewart acts in stressful situations that gives me flashbacks to her Twilight days. Specifically, she tends to twitch and stutter to portray anxiety or fear much like she did as Bella. Not to say that these actions don’t work for the character of Maureen, but it still calls me back to memories of Stewart’s less competent performances. However, her overall portrayal carries the film and gives it life.

Since this is a film that is meant to feel as real as possible there is a minimal amount of effects. The only CGI effects in the film are used to create the ghosts Maureen sees. Most of the time it is just a glimmer in the darkness, but one scene involves a more full-bodied apparition. While the more minimalist CGI works well, the full-bodied work loses any sense of mystery and any chance of scaring the audience. This is a perfect example of “less is more” being the smartest route, especially in paranormal horror films. The cinematography works much better than the effects. Most of the shots, much like the story, are done in a way that makes the audience feel like they are peering into Maureen’s life. Yet there are still scenes that have a certain air of beauty. One specific scene that is masterfully shot manages to make a horrific event intriguing and bewitching. The audience is shown just enough to understand what is happening, without truly showing anything too disturbing. It fits with the overall themes of the film; sex, mystery, beauty, and death.

Personal Shopper is a film that has its flaws. If you can look past some of the less fortunate dialogue and lackluster CGI, then you will see the unsettling and seductive film that lies within. There is no one aspect of this film that narrates the story, except that it is Maureen’s life. Her life is revealed to the audience as she experiences events in an authentic portrayal of the darker side of humanity. The only theme that runs throughout the entire film is life in the fashion world and a sort of acceptance of death. If you enjoy fashion, intrigue, and the supernatural then this is a film you should seek out.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10