Saturday, November 28, 2020

Movie Reviews: Underwater

directed by William Eubank 
This 2020 sci-fi thriller movie is stylish and has a reasonably well known cast. It looks good visually and even has a direct shoutout to one of my favorite and most problematic authors, that crazy old racist from Providence, H.P. Lovecraft. So what what wasn't to like? 
Well there were two things that really took me out of the immersive you are there aspects of any good movie, though I'm pretty sure that Lovecraft would have strongly approved of one of them. The first thing and most noticeable is that the sole named Black male character dies first. You barely even get to know his name before he bites the dust. And he does so in a way that's supposed to bring home the dangers of this disaster. 
That was utterly unnecessary since we have already seen various corpses and the presumed offscreen deaths of other characters. The Black guy is also, if not quite incompetent to the level of Gone With The Wind's  "I don't know nothing about birthing no babies Miz Scarlet!" Prissy, certainly less able than just about any of the other characters, especially the female ones. You wonder how he got his job as he seems to know less about his area of expertise than other people who are not even in his job family.
The author Steven Barnes has written more extensively on what this constant cinematic Black death means here. I just find it fascinating that in 2020 the underlying psychological issues that make "Black guy dies first" a common film trope are still ongoing. The fact that the Black guy deliberately sacrificed himself to save a white person that he didn't even know was silly. 
There must be some character development and relationship for sacrifice to be meaningful. Maybe it's an older relative going outside to die during a time of famine so that the young ones will have more food. Maybe it's a mother holding a knife to the throat of a gangster who threatened to murder her last child and yelling for her son to run. Maybe it's a father working himself to death in the coal mines to pay for his daughter's college education, knowing all along that he's going to get black lung. Maybe it's a husband defending his wife's honor even though he knows the man who assaulted her will easily kill him. Those all make sense. 
The second issue I had with the film though it wasn't quite as blatant as the first is that you don't need to make "strong female" characters by making the male characters weak or incompetent. Competence and intelligence aren't doled out by gender.
Ok, my personal issues aside what was this film about. Well it's nothing you haven't seen before. Driven by greed, humans do something that they shouldn't have done and suffer the consequences. A ragtag bunch of front line mooks try to survive and make it back from isolation to civilization to warn everyone.
In this version of the story, Norah Price (Kristen Stewart) is a mechanical engineer on an underwater corporate drilling and research facility that is operating near the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The ocean is so deep here that it would cover Mt. Everest. The pressure here is 1000 times that at sea level. There is an earthquake. Large portions of the facility and associated tunnels implode. Communication with the surface is impossible. Many workers and scientists die. 
Price and a few survivors, led by the captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel) must abandon the primary facility and walk through remaining tunnels and across the ocean floor to make it to secondary or abandoned failsafe facilities where they can recharge their oxygen packs and (obviously) get in the escape pods and make it back to the surface of the ocean, six miles up. There's only a few problems with the plan. The first problem is that neither the suits nor the humans within them are really designed for long exposure to the ocean depths' cold, dark and pressure. The second problem is that there's something down there that may have caused the earthquake and doesn't like humans. The survivors quickly learn they are being hunted.
Both the special effects and Stewart's performance are homages to Alien and Sigourney Weaver's work therein. Stewart spends a lot of time in bra and panties but this is not erotic. Underwater reminded me of the physics of implosion. The air is compressed so quickly that it ignites. The shockwave disintegrates everything within. And if anyone implausibly survived those two things they would be squashed flat like an elephant stepping on a bug or simply drown. This is a Saturday afternoon movie at best. Other actors and actresses include T.J. Miller, whose humor didn't fit, Jessica Henwick, playing a much different character than her Game of Thrones' Nymeria Sand, Mamadou Athie, and John Gallagher Jr.
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