What ever happened to the creature feature?
You know what I mean? I feel like I spent most of my childhood swimming through stacks of freaky monster movies; Ginger Snaps, Dog Soldiers, The Descent, so on, so forth. But these days, I feel like a good creature feature is a hard thing to find, especially in the mainstream. There will always be people with a sincere love for the genre throwing together cheap special effects and a sense of authentic passion into something halfway passable, but when it comes to the blockbuster monster-movie, I feel like I’ve been missing out on something juicy.
Enter Underwater (no, don’t actually, get out of the pool and finish reading this review). Directed by William Eubank, master of the stark sci-fi noughties flick a la his previous work Love and The Signal, and starring Kristen Stewart (who, look, okay, just is a good actress; if we’ve come to terms with it for Robert Pattinson post-Twilight, then we can for her too, alright) and Vincent Cassel, Underwater isn’t really that bothered about its story. The inhabitants of an underwater deep-sea drill must battle their way back to the surface after an attack from an unknown entity destroys the safety of their station – Underwater takes all of about ninety seconds to take us from zero to twenty-thousand-leagues, hurling us with a cheerful aggressiveness straight into the battle for survival and not bothering to slow down for anything like “characterisation” or “thematic elements that aren’t just lazy Alice in Wonderland references”.
Alright, I’m being a little harsh. Underwater is not a film that wastes many words, for sure, but a really solid cast (including John Gallagher Junior, Jessica Henwick, and Mamoudou Athie) allows for even the light-handed character work to fill out some relatively decent leads, and Eubank knows how to direct these sort of high-stakes, barren-wasteland action. Those tight close-ups in the depths of the collapsing station matched against the terrifying expanse of the ocean around makes for some striking cinematography, even if sometimes the film does seem a little too interested in how pretty it can look and not how interesting it can be.
And then, of course, we have to do about The Monster. Because this isn’t just a monster, no, Eubank went big here, and went with the monster. Nobody does it better than an Elder God, apparently, and Underwater wants to really plunge the depths of the Cthulhu mythos to come up with something really striking. People dance around the use of Lovecraftian imagery, maybe because just those nods to it are often enough to tip off the people who know without alienating those who don’t, but Underwater fully embraces it with an impressive and gorgeous monster who makes for one of the more memorable featured creatures in recent memory.
Look, Underwater is no stunning cinematic success. But it is a really decent little creature feature, a welcome return for a genre which has been so scant recently, with a cast who elevate a decidedly lean script into something with a bit more weight. Now that Oscar season is over, it feels right that we jump back in to the blockbuster, and Underwater is a damn good place to start.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Bloody Disgusting)