If Aliens and Deep Star Six had a stylish baby, it would be this movie.
So here’s the story line: Mechanical engineer Norah Price (played by Kristin Stewart, looking quite lovely in her buzz cut) has to escape a slowly disintegrating deep sea drilling station, which is a hard enough task, but to make matters worse, she’s seven miles under the ocean. Then add the mysterious creatures that have come out of the Mariana Trench, stir, put an olive in it, and you have a frightful cocktail of delicious underwater mayhem. I’m not going to talk about her character arc, or the movie’s pacing, or any of that, because I want to get to the super awesome amazing fabulous monster that terrorizes the rig.
SPOILER ALERT!*** The design of the monster is a big reveal.
We get our first glimpse of the real reason the rig is falling apart when the team finds a micromonster chewing its way through a dead body. Instead of flushing it out to sea, they bring it back to the lab and examine it for clues. In a nutshell, it looks like a pink tentacle nub with half a face and hooked barbs. Then we get the scene turn that I never tire of.
“Wait. I think this is just a baby.”
Because the team has never seen a monster movie, they venture out of the station and walk across the ocean floor to reach another pod. It’s dark. It’s terrifying. And boom! They meet humanoid creepy eyeless water golems that really hate anyone wearing fancy space suit scuba gear. These are your standard Creature of the Black Lagoon types, hostile for no apparent reason and crazy sneaky.
The choice to make them humanoid is an interesting one. Maybe they’re our shadowy doppelgangers of the deep. Maybe they represent our Id, hiding there in the dark, waiting for the next tasty bit to come by. For me they underline the film’s theme—what we do to nature may one day destroy us. When you’re being punished for the terrible things you do, it’s fitting that the monster showing up at your door looks a lot like you.
In the last moments of the film (Yes, this is a spoiler alert, but you’ve come this far, might as well keep going), you get to see what’s really been damaging the station. The humanoid predators that have been picking off members of the team are really the parasites of a larger creature. That’s right, buckle up, because it’s a full on Godzilla-sized monster. It’s so gigantic that when the humanoid creatures sleep, they cling to the mother ship, hanging like bats, or like really creepy streamers at the worst underwater birthday party ever.
As monster designs go, this one gets a five kraken rating. Imagine a hairless King Kong, gene spliced with the sarlacc from Return of the Jedi, wearing an octopus for a hat. It also reminds me how much Lovecraft’s stories have affected monster makers over the years. I’m sorry that I don’t have an image of the Underwater monster yet, but this image of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu will give a general idea.
I’m guessing this is one of the reasons some critics thought the movie was derivative. Or maybe they thought the design took too much from the Cloverfield monster and all its little monsterlings. But honestly, I’m a bit tired of critics trying to find any reason not to like a movie. It looks too much like Cthulhu. No, it doesn’ t look enough like Cthuthlu. Make it smaller. People like small. No, bigger. Really big! Woah, not that big. Can’t you just eat your popcorn and enjoy the movie?
With a 52% on Rotten Tomatoes, this movie didn’t do as badly as the January placement would suggest. Will it one day inspire a roller coaster at a Disney Park? I certainly hope not, what with all the falling concrete and implosions. But more than half the people who saw Underwater liked it, and that includes me. In fact, I think I found a new monster to include in my top five. So turn off your “haven’t I seen this before” sensor before it forever short circuits your ability to have fun, and enjoy the ride.