How do you judge one life against any other? I grew up in the ‘hood of Mister Rogers. I know each and every one of us is special. There is something about me that only I can offer this world. There is something about you that only you can offer this world. Neither of us is more worthy than any other. Well, unless you’re trapped seven miles below the ocean’s surface and a horde of marauding fish monsters are hot on your tail.
Underwater is a claustrophobic little terror filled with “thrills, scares, and some memorable visual beats.” Director William Eubank crams his 95 minutes with likable, blue-collar schlubs reminiscent of the Alien crew, but probably more dimensionally aligned with those rascals from Leviathan and Deep Star Six. They’re joking, busting each other’s chops, flirting, fighting, and probing expositional backstory as far as the run-time will allow.
After their deep-sea drilling station crumbles under the force of a mighty earthquake and mysterious mer-munchers come calling, the 9-to-5 leftovers find themselves acting as little more than time stamps for the audience. Forty-five minutes to go, seven stand tall. Thirty minutes to go, five endure. Twenty minutes to go, four cross their fingers. Ten minutes to go, three feel hopeful. Sixty seconds to go, two escape, and one finds solace in her chosen, heroic fate.
Norah Price (Kristen Stewart) is happy to die. The Captain (Vincent Cassel) is already fish food. He was thirsting to go down with the ship and missed his chance (danke schoen, lil’ Loch Nessies), so Stewart dutifully took his place, and for a similar reason. They are loveless. Grunts Emily (Jessica Henwick) and Liam (John Gallagher Jr.) swim to see another day because they found each other beyond the sea, and their unrequited office space romance elects them as more deserving than the badass wannabe Ripley we’ve been cheering on for the entire damn movie.
What. The. Eldrich. Hell?
Price spends a good portion of Underwater wearing very little and clutching a ring dangling from her neck. It is most definitely not a good luck charm. It’s a token from her dead lover. It is a tiny trinket reminding her that she once knew the bliss of another, the embrace of a person who accepts you for you, including all your ridiculous and infuriating faults. To experience such warmth is to inhabit Nirvana. Torn from it, there is no purpose in life beside muscle-memory clock-punching.
Her survival in Underwater is mostly mechanical. Her training takes over. Her natural desire to live pushes her along the infinite black of the ocean floor. She does not fight for the corporation that brought her face-to-face with gill-men. She fights for the workers beside her. Like a Marine. Like a Space Marine (Aliens is so good, man).
In the final minutes of the movie, Price gets Emily and Liam to the Roebuck Station, where two of three escape pods remain operational. We discover that the school of creatures they’ve been battling are merely the minuscule kin of one, giant, Lovecraftian titan. So many tentacles. So many teeth. Sushi’s revenge.
Price gets the wounded Liam in his pod. Off he goes. Price gets Emily in her pod, but Emily spots Price’s faulty pod in the background. “No! We can figure this out!” Price shakes her head. Sorry, there is no time. You gotta go. You have Liam. You two have to make it work for me. Emily concedes, and away she does it.
The swarm of beasties ascends towards the fleeing pods. The titan prepares to crash upon the Roebuck with all its heft. Price has seen Alien too. She hops on her computer, raises the energy levels of the Roebuck’s core engines, and atomizes all the nearby creatures allowing Liam and Emily to float upward safely. As the explosion envelops Price, a smile comes across her face. Oblivion awaits, but at least she gave those crazy kids a chance at a white picket fence and 2.5 children.
Price was gunning for the sacrifice play ever since she lost her sweetheart. She is listless, adrift in the job, anchored to the bottom of the sea because she couldn’t bear the life above. She was raised on all the same pop songs you and I were. The Beatles gave us our marching orders, “All you need is love.” Hallmark screams it at us every birthday. Your mom forever awaits her grandchildren. If you fail to achieve love, then you’ve failed at life. If you had it and lost it, shuffle off and let the next couple take a crack at it.
Price’s Captain had love. Until he didn’t. From his locker, Price uncovers the memorial card signifying his daughter’s death at age fourteen. No love, you gotta go down with the ship. Single people are not worthy of their life. Sure, they’re special enough for Mister Rogers, but their future is a sunken dead man’s chest. Clip their branches before they bring any more shame to the family tree.
Underwater totes the cultural line. Happiness can not exist in a vacuum. One-bedroom apartments are tombs. Thankfully, I’m married. There’s an escape pod for me.