Article updated: 2022.07.23
The Underwater (2020) is a futuristic action thriller film. The movie was reviewed by Kadmon.
Product: Underwater (2020)
Original title: Underwater
Setting: alternate Earth / Cthulhu Mythos
Product type: Film, Genre: Futuristic action thriller, Style: futuristic, action, thriller, Cthulhu mythos
Reviewer: Kadmon, Type: Male, 40s, Preferences: Immersive, logical story, consistent setting, prefers surprises to spoilers, prefers establishing elements before referencing them
Watched: very recent (2020.04), first time
Rating: Average (2 out of 3 points), Enjoyment: Average (2 out of 3 points)
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This is my review of Underwater, a futuristic action thriller movie from 2020. It's about the survivors of an undersea drill explosion trying to get to the surface, while something tries to hunt them down. The film looks nice, the actors are mostly good, and there are a couple of interesting scenes. The overall story is okay, the Underwater film is an enjoyable thriller.
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I've read a preview a couple of monthes ago that said the film is promising, then I've watched the trailer, that got me interested. After a couple of recommendations, I though I'd give Underwater (2020) a try.
The Underwater film is about the survivors of an undersea drill explosion trying to get to the surface, while something tries to hunt them down.
The concept of the story is not new, but it's executed nicely. Visually it looks good, I like the sets and the look of the diving suits. We don't really get to know the characters, so it's hard to root for them. Some of the actors are good, but the rest are still okay. Unlike many recent films, the characters are not stupid, the action is set in real world physics (with minor unreal elements).
The violence is not particularly graphic, it's more about the action than the horror. There is more suspense than jump scares, as far as I remember.
The music is good, although not instantly memorable. (Update: I've checked the soundtrack, by Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts after writing this review, and it's actually good. I was probably more engaged in the story than to pay attention to the music.)
The movie is an action packed thrill-ride from the start. If it can interest you long enough, you may enjoy the Underwater film.
I enjoyed the movie. Kristen Stewart looked good in the role of the main protagonist. The story could have been better, but I was able to watch it.
Rating: Average (2 out of 3 points). It's watchable.
Enjoyment: Average (2 out of 3 points). I liked the film, but it had some problems.
Rewatchability: I think that if you really love action packed movies, and you liked the film for first viewing, you'll like to watch it more than once.
Chance of watching it again: Low. After watching it once, I think the suspense won't be there for a second time. The characters are not interesting enough, the story is not immersive enough that would validate a second viewing.
Chance of watching a sequel: High. I'd sure watch it.
Will you enjoy this?
If you like action-packed underwater horror movies (Deep Star Six, Leviathan), you might like this one. If you are waiting for another The Abyss, this is not your film.
If you like sci-fi horror movies set in enclosed spaces (Alien knockoffs), you might like Underwater, although this is more of an action movie, than a suspenseful horror. Unlike most Alien knockoff films, Underwater is not stupid, and it's a good addition to the genre.
If you enjoy claustrophobic movies (Das Boot, Sphere, The Abyss), you might also enjoy Underwater.
Watching for plot points
If you are only watching this film because you are curious whether it has some interesting background story or twist - I think you are better off with reading the plot summary on WikiPedia, or watch one of the video summaries, I'm going to list in the Resources section of my review.
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Overall, Underwater was a watchable action film. It immediately starts with action, leaving little room to breathe. As you can see in the plot summary, there's not much of a plot, but the action kept me watching Underwater until the end.
The movie starts with just a few characters, but the creators failed to make them memorable. When they started to die, I didn't really care about them.
Promise of the first scene
The setting is established during the credits, and that's a good choice. I hope this means we won't get information dumps in the middle of an action scene.
Then we get introduced to the station, and we see a crewmember on her daily routine. It's nice that the flickering lights and the mirror opening gives some foreshadowing, that things are not perfect down there. Then suddenly everything explodes and people die. An impressive start, I must admit, and I have no idea what will happen. They will probably escape from the underwater base.
Execution: Well, most of the story was about things exploding and people dying, so they kept this plot element through the movie. And indeed they did escape.
Plot summary / Synopsis
The film starts on near future Earth, in the Mariana Trench, on a deep sea mining drill. There is a catastrophe, with a couple of survivors (among them Kristen Stewart as Norah Price, and Vincent Cassel as W. Lucien), who want to reach the surface. When they realise that the station is going to explode, they decide to take a walk in diving suits to the nearest underwater station. On their way to the station, they are attacked by underwater humanoid creatures (Deep Ones). Three of them arrive to the station, when Cthulhu rises to destroy the base. During their voyage, there are signs that the company that sent them here intentionally wanted to wake Cthulhu. Two of them escape in escape pods, the third (Norah Price) stays back to explode the station, trying to kill Cthulhu and the Deep Ones.
Underwater is set in a near future (some time after 2047), where we started to buld underwater stations, and initiated deep sea mining. By the time the story is happening, there were drilling stations for at least a couple of decades. As we meet Deep Ones, then later Cthulhu, the facility is probably in the vicinity of R'lyeh. As Cthulhu cannot die, he'll probably reform after the explosion. For a better understanding of the place and the creature, you should read The Call of Cthulhu, from H. P. Lovecraft.
The setting is well described, I think I understood everything that happened in Underwater.
The message of the story
I don't think there's any. If I really had to guess one, I'd say "don't build underwater drills".
Also, there is a theme that there are things you just can't do anything about.
The structure of the story
The scenes are played in sequence. It has the usual arc of the dramatic structure, but instead of spending some time on the introduction, it starts immediately with action.
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Parallels with other stories
There are many references in the Underwater film to other movies. The director also stated there are references to Alice in Wonderland.
- The opening shot of the base
- The planning session
- The look of the diving suits
- The chestburster
- Women in panties
- Pet animal on board: A cat in Alien, a rabbit in Underwater.
Alice in Wonderland
- White rabbit
- "Alice cried so much, she almost drowned"
- Deck of cards on the table
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Things I liked
- I liked the look of the underwater stations.
- I liked the look of the diving suits.
- Cthulhu was hidden in the dark of the sea. That way more of the mystery remained.
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How does it compare to the other works of the creators?
The director's (William Eubank) previous films I've seen (Love, The Signal) were also written by him, and they were strange stories, built on the atmosphere. Underwater is more focused, and better in telling a complete story. I'll probably write reviews of those movies later.
I haven't seen anything else written by the writers (Adam Cozad, Brian Duffield). (Update: Since then I've seen Love and Monsters from Brian Duffield, and that was good, so now I'm more interested in his work.)
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I don't have problems with any specific plot points of the story. There were a couple of things in the Underwater film that I find unlikely (concrete and brick walls in the deep see station), but I didn't find them really distracting. Some other things look unreal (the creatures tearing deep sea diving suits or escape pods apart), but if you consider that Deep Ones have supernatural abilities, it might be okay. Some things are only there so we have some visible clues (underwater road signs), but they help the viewer to understand where the events take place.
I feel that the title "Underwater" is a little too generic. This could be the title of any story that takes place underwater, there's nothing in it that would point to this specific story.
Some scenes I find problematic
- The girl breaks the glass on the helmet of the deep sea diving suit with ease: Those helmets are designed to withstand a lot of pressure. No matter how hard she hit the helmet, it should be able to take it.
- The captain's helmet starts to break due to ascending: I had the impression that those helmets are designed to withstand the pressure of the deep sea, so they should be able to withstand the pressure of a less deep sea. I've been told that it's a tricky thing to balance the pressure, so it can be realistic that the glass breaks due to the ascension. However, it would have been still nice if this were explained in the movie itself, so the audience would understand what is happening.
- The creature that swallows a suit whole: Why does it do that? We've seen it earlier that it can tear the limbs off from someone wearing a diving suit. It could have just do it, instead of swallowing it, that would make it harder to digest the prey.
I was satisfied, I didn't feel there are still questions that need answers.
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Possibilities of improvement
The Underwater film is not perfect (otherwise I would have given it a 3/3 in my review), but some of the problems are easy to solve.
- The beginning: The music is suddenly cut when we get inside the base. That's too sudden for my tastes, probably ending the score, or fading it out would work better for me.
- Cut the scene with the helmet breaking: It's only a couple of seconds, and makes the movie more believable.
- Making the "in memoriam" card more visible: There was a mention that the captain's daughter is 14, then they correct him that she must be over 25 now. Then later we see a card featuring the photo of the girl, with the text "In loving memory of Allison, age 14". The text is golden, on yellow background. When I watched the movie, I couldn't read the text, and by the look of the card, I wouldn't have guessed that the photo signifies that the girl died. Making the text readable, or having some black border, or a black cross, or a black stripe over the corner, would make it more easier to understand, even if you can't read the text. The latter is important for non-English speakers, who can't understand what's on the card.
- Cut the bunny or finish the effects of the real bunny: As I understand from the DVD featurette, the toy bunny was intended to be a real one, with the toy used as a stand-in for the effects, then later the film makers decided to keep the stuffed animal in the movie. However, the crew treats the toy and cares for it like a real bunny, and it doesn't really makes sense. So, I think cutting the scenes with the bunny, or finishing the effects would add to the story. The white rabbit was included as an allusion for the Alice in Wonderland book, but I don't think it's a necessary addition, especially as a toy animal, so cutting it wouldn't hurt the movie.
- Make the hidden messages more visible: The director's commentary suggests that the corporation probably intentionally drilled there to awoke Cthulhu, as they knew it that he's imprisoned there. At 1:05:50 There are drawings of Cthulhu, one showing them on his signature platform, and pentagrams near the original plan, pointing to the map, showing that they planned to have the drill exactly where they thought Cthulhu was. These were so hidden and small, that for the first viewing I didn't realise that I should have seen that. Focusing a bit more on each drawing, spending a little more time on the details would have helped with that. Otherwise, this scene just gets lost. There was a painting in the beginning of the film, with some undersea creatures, that's probably also some kind of homage to the mythos, but it's also obscured. The film makers did draw attention to these scenes, but didn't make them easy to see and understand.
- Make the reactor of the last station unstable: When they reach the last station, after they enter, the computer should announce that the reactor is unstable due to the damage, and the characters could mention that they should hurry, before it blows up. This would make it believable, when a little later the protagonist blows up the whole station with just a little bit tinkering. If it were already damaged, that would have be more plausible.
How it could have been better?
Character building: There should have been a couple of scenes, building the characters. The action-driven approach wouldn't be bad, but it left out the characters completely, so it's hard to care for them. Introduce us to the characters before they get killed. There are at least four of them who die before we even get to see them properly. This makes them just faceless casualties. Before the action starts, let us have a couple of moments with the characters we will see. (Interestingly, the trailer is cut in a way that it looks like we'll get a more traditional approach, with introductions before the action starts.) Let us get to know their personality, desires, their relationship towards the rest of the crew. That way loosing them would make us feel something.
Active characters: The protagonists of the film always just react to the events that unfold. Although one of the themes of the movie is that there are things you are powerless about, but the characters having some agency would have added a lot to the story. There are only three events that show the agency of the characters: Norah leading the escape in the beginning, the captain planning the escape, and Norah preparing to escape the halfway station. Every other action is just trying to follow a plan, or reacting to something. We root more for characters who take active roles.
Everything is beyond the control of the characters. They can't repair the station. They can't repair the suits. They are unable to fight the monsters. So the viewers know that they need not wait for the characters to change the situation, it's up to luck - and the decision of the movie makers - what will happen. We cannot project us into them, to come up with plans, because we know they are useless anyway. This leads to less engagement from the viewer.
The captain: It looks like the captain knew that they will be able to awaken Cthulhu, but he hid this fact from the others. This was just added into the movie as a sidenote, but this really changes the character. If he intentionally caused this, he probably has some plan - for example, he might want to resurrect his dead daughter with the help of Cthulhu. However, during the whole movie, he seems like a nice, caring guy - not someone, who is intent to bring destruction. I'm not sure what's the best way to handle this, but something should be done with him in this regard. He could have told Norah about it in his final moments, when he sees that he won't survive it.
The sacrifice of the captain could be a redeeming moment, if there were only one creature, and he would told the others that he was an accomplice to the awakening of it. His guilt is why he remained on the rig, and he would rather die than let the others fall prey to the creature. So, he blows himself up, and then the girl reaches the other two, they get to the elevator without problem, and all of them go. This should be done quickly, it shouldn't take more than 5 minutes, and there shouldn't be any more action scenes, otherwise it would break the mood that was built with the sacrifice.
The creatures: I'm not sure the movie needs Cthulhu at the end (or the Cthulhu mythos at all). As Filmento points out, if there were only a single monster, when Norah kills it with the gun, it would have been a great ending. After that they could get into the base, use the pods, and end credits. Instead of this, as we are shown that there are more of this monster, and they are easily killed with a weapon, they have to introduce a bigger monster that is harder to defeat, and I'm not sure we really need a scene when they blow up a nuclear reactor just to damage a monster.
Leave Cthulhu out, or use The Abyss as a template: Using Cthulhu gives a larger scope to the film, and I'm not sure it handles it well. Using a single monster would probably be enough, and the defeat of that monster could be the ending. Inserting Cthulhu into the mix could be used in a way that The Abyss used the extra-terrestrial elements. When Norah reaches the halfway station, the plans and occult elements could change this into a supernatural mystery movie. She could learn a bit more about Cthulhu, she could find summoning rituals, and it could be her making that Cthulhu comes to the station, so she could blow him up.
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- People try to wake Cthulhu with the use of an underwater drill.
- There's an catastrophe on an underwater base
- The beginning scene where everything explodes is great to show an underwater (or maybe even outer space) catastrophe.
- When we see Cthulhu for the first time, it's epic.
Scenarios - Role-playing game
Scenarios - Wargame
- There's an explosion on a base, that causes parts of the base to collapse, and fire (or anything threatening) starts spreading. The player has to save as many people as possible, as they will start the next scenario with the people who are alive. There should be decisions whether to close off a threatened part with some survivors, or wait for them to escape, with the possibility that the threatening thing will spread to places that were previously safe. Some people get buried under wrecks, they need to be helped by others. There might be a time limit for the player, before the next scenario starts, where attackers enter the base to finish them off.
Miniatures - 1/50-1/60 (28-32mm scale)
The crew: Human-sized modern civilians.
The diving suits: Human-sized or Large humanoid in futuristic full armour, with no weapons.
Deep Ones: Large humanoid creatures.
Cthulhu: There are plenty of Cthulhu models out there, just choose a pretty large one.
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Dept. H (2016-2018): The crew tries to investigate a murder mystery in an enclosed environment (underwater).
The Wake (2014): The world is taken over by the deep ones. Humanity tries to survive. Underwater feels like a prequel to this story.
Alien (1979): The crew tries to survive a creature (alien) in an enclosed environment (spaceship).
Below (2002): The crew tries to investigate a mystery in an enclosed environment (underwater).
Cold Skin (2017): A horror story about sea creatures, similar to the ones in Underwater.
DeepStar Six (1989): The crew tries to survive a creature (alien) in an enclosed environment (underwater). As I remember, Underwater is a better movie.
Leviathan (1989): The crew tries to survive a creature (alien) in an enclosed environment (underwater). As I remember, Underwater is a better movie.
Lords of the Deep (1989): The crew tries to survive a creature (alien) in an enclosed environment (underwater).
Kolskaya sverhglubokaya / The Superdeep, movie (2020): The crew tries to investigate a mystery, then survive a creature (parasitic fungus) in an enclosed environment (underwater). Underwater is a better movie in every aspect.
Sphere (1998): The crew tries to investigate a mystery in an enclosed environment (underwater).
The Abyss (1989): The crew tries to investigate a mystery in an enclosed environment (underwater).
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Is Underwater about Cthulhu? / Is Underwater based on Cthulhu? / Was that Cthulhu in Underwater?
Cthulhu is not named in the Underwater movie, but it's pretty clear that the big bad at the end is Cthulhu, if you listen to the director's commentary, and freeze frame the movie during some revealing scenes.
What were the creatures in Underwater?
The humanoid creatures (called 'clingers' by the makers of the movie) are similar to the Deep Ones of the Cthulhy mythos, while the monstrous creature at the end (called 'Behemoth' by the team) looks like Cthulhu, a Great Old One from the same mythos.
What is the monster in Underwater? / What is the monster at the end of Underwater?
If you listen to the director's commentary, the monster (called 'Behemoth' by the film crew) is based on Cthulhu, an alien god from the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft.
Does Cthulhu die in Underwater? / In the Underwater Cthulhu scene did they just kill Cthulhu?
If the creature we see in the scene at the end of Underwater is really Cthulhu, then some nuclear blast is not enough to kill him. The damage would probably kill the Deep Ones though, Cthulhu however would regenerate in a couple of hours.
On the other hand, this might still cause the defeat of Cthulhu. The ritual for getting him out of his prison can be done only when the stars are right. If the right time passes, Cthulhu would regenerate in his prison, in R'lyeh.
Are there aliens in the Underwater movie?
It depends on your definition of alien. In Underwater, we see humanoid creatures. They might be aliens, or just humans that were mutated by the monster. That monster (most likely Cthulhu) is probably an alien to Earth.
Is Underwater worth watching?
I'd recommend watching Underwater if you are interested in futuristic thrillers.
Is Underwater movie based on true story?
Nope. Underwater is not based on true story. Especially as it takes place in the future.
Is there a post credit scene in Underwater?
No, there's no post credit scene in Underwater.
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Underwater: Official website.
IMDB: Underwater (2020): Database article.
WikiPedia: Underwater (film): Database article.
Letterboxd: Underwater: Database article.
Rotten Tomatoes: Underwater (2020): Database article.
Metacritic: Underwater 2020: Database article.
TVTropes: Film / Underwater: Database article.
Chris (for Scified): Underwater wasn’t written to be a Cthulhu movie, says Director!: Behind the scenes article.
Parental advisory information - Underwater movie (2020)
Tara McNamara (for Common Sense Media ): Underwater: Parental advisory information article.
Reviews with no spoilers - Underwater movie (2020)
Craig Suide (for Sci-Fi Movie Page): Underwater (2020):Highly Derivative Subaquatic Fun: Review article of Underwater movie with no spoilers.
greigzilla (for We've Got (Back) Issues): Underwater: Review article of the movie, with minor spoilers.
Nate Zoebl: Underwater (2020): Review article about the film with minor spoilers.
Rob Hunter (for Film School Rejects): 'Underwater' Review: Part Monster Movie, Part Underwear Commercial, All Good: Review article of Underwater movie with no spoilers.
Tony (for Reel Time Flicks): Underwater (2020): Review article about the film with minor spoilers.
WardWorks (for Cross the Netflix Stream): Underwater Movie Review: Review article with no spoilers.
Reviews with no spoilers - Underwater movie (2020) - Italian
Marco Minniti (for Asbury Movies): Underwater (in Italian): Review article with no spoilers, in Italian.
Reviews with no spoilers - Underwater movie (2020) - Turkish
Buğra Şendündar (for Science Fiction Club): Danger Under the Water: Underwater (in Turkish): Review article of the movie, with no spoilers, in Turkish.
Müge İbrikçi Baran (for Dark Movies): Underwater (2020) – Film Review (in Turkish): Review article of the movie, with no spoilers, in Turkish.
Reviews with spoilers - Underwater movie (2020)
Brad Gullickson (for Film School Rejects): The Ending of 'Underwater' Explained: Review article of Underwater, with spoilers. Includes a plot summary.
FilmComicsExplained: UNDERWATER (Cthulhu Awakens) EXPLORED: Review video of Underwater, with spoilers. Includes a plot summary.§
Analysis - Underwater movie (2020)
Carlos Mario Castro (for Sabanerox): Underwater | Ending Explained: Analysis article of Underwater movie.§
Filmento: Underwater — How to Fail at Alien | Anatomy Of A Failure: Analysis video of Underwater movie, showing the problems with the structure and plot.§
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Have you seen the Underwater film? How do you like the movie? Would you recommend it to others? Do you know reviews or resources you'd like to add? What further thoughts do you have about it? Tell your opinion in the comments!