Ste­wart brings ma­jor cool to for­mu­laic mon­ster B-movie

Orlando Sentinel - - CALENDAR - By Katie Walsh

The open­ing shot of “Un­der­wa­ter” roves around the empty, in­dus­trial pas­sage­ways of some kind of trans­port ves­sel, the walls creak­ing. Mo­ti­vated by an un­known force, the cam­era’s pan ul­ti­mately lands on No­rah (Kris­ten Ste­wart), who has cropped bleached hair and a mouth­ful of tooth­paste, clad in her skivvies. Im­me­di­ately the au­di­ence rec­og­nizes this will be Ste­wart’s “Ri­p­ley mo­ment,” pay­ing homage to Sigour­ney Weaver’s iconic role in Ri­d­ley Scott’s “Alien” (but at the bot­tom of the Mar­i­ana trench, rather than in outer space).

No­rah is a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer aboard a large struc­ture sur­round­ing the Ke­pler ocean drill, which is in the busi­ness of pen­e­trat­ing the Earth’s crust search­ing for min­er­als like a hun­gry anteater. She’s a cyn­i­cal sort of sav­ior, scoop­ing spi­ders from the sink, but she knows how to make the tough de­ci­sions too. When the struc­ture is rocked by sev­eral mas­sive jolts, she’s forced to sac­ri­fice a cou­ple of col­leagues while seal­ing off a pas­sage­way to save the whole ship. Soon it’s just a small group of sur­vivors, hop­ing to make their way down to the ocean floor and across to an­other drilling sta­tion, the Roe­buck. It seems their vul­ner­a­ble suits and the deadly pres­sure from the miles of wa­ter they’re un­der will be the most dan­ger­ous thing to nav­i­gate, but they’re of course un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the real threats of what lie be­neath.

Writ­ten by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad, the specter of “Alien” haunts “Un­der­wa­ter,” a damp riff off and trib­ute to the 1979 ex­trater­res­trial hor­ror thriller. One can imag­ine the pitch meet­ing: “It’s ‘Alien’ on the ocean floor!” But it hews so closely one can eas­ily pre­dict each story beat, each re­veal, each jump scare. Direc­tor Wil­liam Eubank dis­tin­guishes the for­mu­laic film with a jit­tery art­ful­ness ren­dered in shades of gray and green, but what el­e­vates the B-movie is the pres­ence of Ste­wart, who is both a movie star and a great ac­tress. Although she some­times seems to vac­il­late be­tween the two poles, in “Un­der­wa­ter,” she is both, bring­ing her cool elan to this mon­ster movie un­der the sea.

Oh yeah, “Un­der­wa­ter” is a mon­ster movie, but you knew that, right? This Love­craftian tale takes the “Alien” struc­ture and plunges it “20,000 Leagues Un­der the Sea,” with a nod to Neil Mar­shall’s claus­tro­pho­bic 2006 cave hor­ror flick “The Des­cent.” The re­sult is some­thing Jules Verne could only dream of, putting even the iconic Xenomorph to shame.

The sickly green aes­thetic and har­ried edit­ing brings a queasy verve to the pro­ceed­ings, and cou­pled with the cast (Ste­wart is joined by Vin­cent Cas­sel,

John Gal­lagher Jr., Jes­sica Hen­wick, Mamoudou Athie and T.J. Miller), “Un­der­wa­ter” rises above its generic prove­nance. But as stylish as it is, and with as many deeply treach­er­ous and in­ven­tive dilem­mas as the group faces, the film is too faith­ful to the for­mula that it never achieves pulse-quick­en­ing sus­pense.

MPAA rat­ing: Run­ning time: TWEN­TI­ETH CEN­TURY FOX

Kris­ten Ste­wart stars in “Un­der­wa­ter,” writ­ten by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad. PG-13 (for sci-fi ac­tion and ter­ror, and brief strong lan­guage) 1:35

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