A group of people are stuck in a confined space, suspended in an environment that they can’t survive, while some manner of mysterious force lays in wait outside. Bread-and-butter isolation thrills, the kind that is bare minimum for genre filmmaking and a framework that really needs all the spice it can get to stand out amongst its crowded competition. And to the credit of director William Eubank (Love, The Signal), all the right ingredients seem to be on-hand to make for a cool film.
For sheer atmosphere, Underwater looks and sounds pretty damn good. The production design hits a weird sci-fi middle-ground where it feels appropriate techy, but without tying it down to a specific timeframe, be it contemporary or that of a theoretical future. The overwhelmingly murky visuals courtesy of cinematographer Bojan Bazelli (6 Underground, A Cure For Wellness) combine with the effective sound design, giving the ocean depths a suitably otherworldly vibe, adding to the occasional musings on how humanity may have dug too deep and awoken something dangerous.
Screenwriters Brian Duffield (Jane Got A Gun, The Babysitter) and Adam Cozad (The Legend of Tarzan) bring a reasonable amount of thematic chew to the narrative. Allusions to Alice In Wonderland, a reiteration of the need to work together that itself lives deep down in the genre’s DNA, a sideways justification for its comic relief where even the cheesiest shit is palatable in the face of unrelenting fear; it’s alright on paper, but something got lost in translation from paper to actors’ mouths.
Pretty much everyone here has a healthy pedigree for being watchable through sheer personality, but the director seems to have taken that for granted because they aren’t given much to do. All that emphasis on atmosphere means that characterisation ends up falling by the wayside, as the bulk of the cast feel like throwaways. The only exceptions to that are K-Stew in the lead, who is basically coasting on her brewing resurgence in the popular consciousness, Vincent Cassel as every captain of a sinking ship you’ve ever seen before, and T.J. Miller as one of the more tone-deaf embodiments of comic relief in recent memory. Even with the film’s own admissions of the quality of his quips, they still don’t register as intended.
So, everyone on-board is in the right place, and there’s a vein of originality that could give this seemingly-tired narrative a fresh twist. Then why is this so bloody boring? It should not be possible to make K-Stew v. Cthulhu dull to sit through, but these guys seem to have managed it. Not that it’s completely Dude-awful or anything, but it still feels like a selection of the best ingredients getting warmed-over in the microwave. Not even mixed or arranged in any particular way; just thrown in haphazardly. This can only be recommended if your affinity for any of the actors is that strong that you’ll watch them in anything.
There’s something universally appealing about an underdog story. Of seeing a group of unlikely characters achieve goals far beyond their humble beginnings, or limited opportunities. It doesn’t get much more underdoggy than Parkway Drive, a band formed in 2003 by a bunch of self described “surf rats” from Byron Bay. The band, comprising Ben Gordon, Luke Kilpatrick, Jeff Ling, Winston McCall and Jia O’Connor, play a sort of hybrid of metal and hardcore – unashamedly designed for maximum mosh pit mayhem – that has taken them from some of Australia’s less salubrious venues to headling the biggest metal concert in the world, Wacken Open Air.
Viva the Underdogs is a feature-length hybrid of documentary and concert movie, showing glimpses of the unlikely journey as well as some of the trials and tribulations faced by this self-managed band on their way to international success. It’s a pleasing mix of triumph, adversity and even comedy, with the continuing failure of a molotov cocktail onstage gag feeling almost Spinal Tap-esque in its absurdity. Another moment, where all the power in the venue goes out during a Hollywood gig is utterly devastating, although the band do their best to rally and make the most of interacting with their fans. Sure, sometimes the boys in the band are farting, swearing gronks, but they genuinely give a shit about their fans and audience enjoyment, and that’s hard not to like.
Viva the Underdogs is a love letter to fans of Parkway Drive, and those folks will make up the bulk of the audience for the one night only cinema release on January 22. However there’s an undeniable appeal to the whole venture, even in its unashamedly earnest moments, and there’s something quite delightful about hearing Aussie accents ring out during a massive international concert, saying “danke, danke, danke” before ripping into another shredding number. Probably not for the unconverted, but for fans of Parkway and Aussie metal in general, VivatheUnderdogs will be a noisy treat.
Cate Blanchett stars as Phyllis Schlafly, an American conservative, in this FX series set during the heated '70s feminist movement. Rose Byrne plays Gloria Steinem, with Sarah Paulson, Elizabeth Banks, Uzo Aduba, Melanie Lynskey, Margo Martindale and Tracey Ullman also in the cast for showrunner Dahvi Waller (Mad Men).