A crew member of the Poseidon, a drilling rig seven miles under the sea, plops a creature on the dining table. It squirms about aimlessly, leaving a trail of blood where the surrounding crowd usually eats. Yet no one reacts. They stare at the creature as if it couldn’t hurt them. Have these characters not seen “Alien?” The filmmakers certainly have, and they spend the entire run time trying to prove it. By stealing everything from Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic, this watered down rip-off brings nothing new to the table. In the ocean, no one can hear you sigh.
Director William Eubank (“The Signal”) has made a carbon copy of Scott’s breakout hit. His camera pans through empty hallways on the rig, where it eventually finds the heroine, Norah (Kristen Stewart). She’s brushing her teeth and contemplating her sanity. “When you’re underwater for months at a time, you lose sense of time and day… awake or dreaming,” her voice over explains. Looking in the mirror she sees not only her bleached blonde hair, but also notices flickering lights in the background. Then, water pours through the walls.
It doesn’t take long for Eubank to drench us with action. And he doesn’t let up for a second. As the water slowly rises, Norah quickly makes her way across the rig. Jumping over rubble and sliding through puddles, she meets up with the captain (Vincet Cassell), her friend Emily (Jessica Henwick), Emily’s boyfriend (John Gallagher) and a nameless crew member (Mamoudou Athie). A little further up they find Paul who, as played by T.J. Miller, sucks up the little oxygen that’s left in the cargo hanger with his dumb jokes.
That lack of oxygen sends the gang to the bottom of the ocean. In robotic suites, with lights guiding the way, they shuffle along the sand toward the escape pods. Not before aquatic aliens can devour them like chum. In a sequence that recalls Dallas’ death in “Alien,” the crew looks at a tracking device as a swarm of dots ascend on their location. Their faces transmit cascades of bewilderment. And the closeups and handheld camerawork add to the excitement. When those dots finally reach the hapless humans, and the CGI creatures jump out of the dark, the result is terrifying.
While “Underwater” has the occasional scare, it’s hard to look past the whirlpool of cliches. Everything in Adam Cozad and Brian Duffield’s script has been done before by Scott or James Cameron. The base looks like a spaceship from inside. The creatures have a mouth contraption that will remind viewers of H.R. Griger’s Xenomorph. Even the characters are knockoffs of the “Alien” franchise. Especially Stewart’s Norah who, like Sigourney Weaver’s ripped Ripley, fights in her underwear. Is there anything this movie doesn’t borrow?
Yes and no. Stewart brings depth to her shallowly written role. As much as the picture wants her to be another Ripley, she is more frantic than badass, a characteristic that makes her more relatable than action figure. What’s new in the script is a message about climate change. “We took too much, now she’s taking back,” Emily explains, referring to the consequences of drilling for oil. She’s not wrong. Deep sea drilling has caused problems in the past, most notably with Deepwater Horizon, and the earth still suffers from the environmental repercussions to this day.
The final monster, who makes the base look like a tadpole by comparison, is referred to as “Mother Earth’s vengeance.” It’s a fitting nickname for the beast. But the film’s title could use some tweaking. A more apt title would be “Alien Resurrection: The January Rip-Off.”