Kristen Stewart, T.J. Miller, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie, Gunner Wright
It should not be possible to make K-Stew v. Cthulhu dull to sit through, but these guys seem to have managed it.
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.