Review: Underwater (2020)
Updated: Jan 22
As a fan of underwater horror and sci-fi films I was definitely curious to finally check this out, but what's a little more interesting to me is that 11 months after the initial release I haven't heard too many people chatting about the monster revelation of the film. I guess it's understandable as I don't think this performed too well in theaters, and to be fair there have been articles going on about the revelation. So let's say spoilers now so you can skip this review if you really want to, but if you were me they're the type of spoilers that would make you want to see the film.
THAR BE SPOILERS AHEAD
......... we good?
..........you cool to go?
I leave enough space for you to not see what's below? Cool.
So hey it's a secret Cthulhu film.
Quick concept summary so we can get to the interesting stuff, there's a large corporation (Tian corporation, as in LovecraTIAN) mining deep underwater and a series of tremors kick off a major catastrophe at the base. We get a group of six people trying to survive and to make things worse there's a bunch of creatures starting to pop up. You know this film, you've already seen it a handful of times: Leviathan (1989), DeepStar Six (1989), The Abyss (1989-Damn, 1989 was a good year for this genre), and Sphere (1998) just to name a few.
It's not quite right to call this a boilerplate underwater fiction, and I don't really think derivative is fair either (although critics are leaning hard into that one). As someone who loves the subgenre of underwater horror fiction this feels more like a love letter, or an attempt to hammer down and improve upon the formula. And while it was at it, it also it went for a few obvious Alien homages and then tossed in the Lovecraftian design works and mythos nods for good measure.
So let's talk some Lovecraft real quick.
For the most part there's not any real specific Lovecraftian hints until the monsters start to pop up, and while they give off some Deep Ones vibes you may not necessarily jump to the conclusion. They're more of an underwater Slenderman to a certain degree, mostly because you only see glimpses of a really thin figure in the darkness and their full body under flashing lights. When you can make them out though they look great, A+ monster design, I really like dem guys.
Then there's a tiny blink-and-you-miss-it clue when Kristen Stewart opens the locker of Vincent Cassel's character and we see a suspicious map and some other pics connected by strings:
Stewart just sort of frowns at it for a moment and then moves on, so it feels like there's a scene missing where she's reading from his journal or whatever. If you can pause it and take a look at the bottom of the scene though you can make out a drawing that resembles Lovecraft's own sketch of Cthulhu.
As we progress and KStew survives another encounter with a lanky Deep One, it's revealed that there are a ton of them and that they live in the skin of a much bigger monster. I would love to give you some shots of all of this but all the scenes are murky as hell and don't make for great screencaps. Any Lovecraft enthusiast at this point in the film who may have missed the fleeting confirmation in the locker are probably wondering if the big tentacle boi was Cthulhu, so Eubanks did confirm it online.
Side note, this line from that article?
"Lovecraft himself is not without his flaws, and many of his stories include what some might construe as racist and xenophobic undertones."
Some MIGHT construe? We...we should talk a little about your breezing by that entire issue with the most hilariously low key acknowledgement.
But I digress. So Eubanks confirmed, and also posted this little scale chart for fun:
What's a little more interesting to me is that according to an article at Bloody Disgusting, Eubanks believed,
“In order to make a proper Cthulhu movie, in my opinion, you can’t say it’s a Cthulhu movie, because then the experience of the unknown and the cosmic horror really isn’t there. But by going in totally silent about it, and allowing people to be like ‘Wait, what is this. This isn’t making sense.’ And then for it to make sense in the end. That’s the best way to experience it. I was pretty stoked that they kept it under wraps.”
I think I partially agree? I think it made sense for this production, because as Eubanks mentions elsewhere in that article if you come right out to companies that you're doing a Lovecraft then you won't get the green light. But Eubanks' idea that it would 'make sense in the end' assumes that A) people recognized what was in the locker scene, B) people know what a Cthulhu is, and C) that people would bother to care and research it after viewing the movie. I think for many viewers it was simply a case of 'big monster go boom, we done', and that you don't really broach any of the complexities, let alone cosmic horror. It works for DeepStar Six because it was just a big crabby monster. It doesn't work so much here because without any context or mythos you sort of just reduce Cthulhu into a smashy kaiju.
Alternatively, and not that I want more 2hr+ movies, a few choice sequences where Vincent Cassel explains his folly of being in a Cthulhu cult might have worked out just fine. Or that he was trying to stop the Cthulhu cult, or anything along those lines.
It was the cult of Cthulhu or Scientology, ok guys, and I stand by my decision.
It sounds like most of the Lovecraft decisions and design work were done in post production though, so it was more of a case of something developing subtly and just maintaining that 'under the radar' vibe. And this way I suppose it kind of stands as a movie of different possibilities, which in a way has its own rewards. We just gotta take our Cthulhus where we can get them in these difficult times.
I enjoyed the film for what it was; an updated underwater b-movie with some neat little nods to other horror niches. The cast was decent, Stewart made for an engaging lead, the action was solid, and having one of these niche sub-genre films with current special effects is great. Considering how they tend to bomb financially we can probably only expect an underwater horror film of this production value what, every 5-10 years now? Hopefully by the end of 2020 Cthulhu will just rise in the real world and we just have them star in their own cinematic universe.