Cinematic Releases: Aliens of the Abyss: Underwater (2020) - Reviewed

As the post holiday dumping ground season begins, William Eubank's latest science fiction thriller gets a major domestic release this Friday. With Star Wars still riding the top of the box office, this one will most likely sink to the bottom as it gasps for precious air. Produced over three years ago, it's shocking that this didn't end up as a straight to video contender on Netflix or Amazon Prime. It would probably have much more success there considering its $80 million budget and impeccable eye candy. 

Coming off two other indie genre projects like Love (2011) and The Signal (2014), Eubank tries his creative hand at a much bigger budgeted, derivative, action laden effects spectacle that truly shows all the signs of his notable influences. Begging, borrowing and stealing the aesthetic, cinematography style, lighting techniques and the tone of a classic series is not unheard of. Strangely enough, they come so close to capturing some of the elements that made Alien so great that it reeks of being a copy cat. Underwater is dripping with so much Ridley Scott influence that things get uncomfortable at times. From the close corridor environments, to the eerie blackness that permeates the film, to the plot's core, this is a total knockoff. Instead of being insulted by the glaring comparisons, this is one that should just be enjoyed for the ride. Nothing else. 

Although Kristen Stewart tries to carry the project to full term, this is an absolute amalgamation of the entire Ellen Ripley saga that's never quite as beautiful but has some stunning visuals that help her bear the weight of a mostly mediocre story. Following the upward and awesome trend of female heroics we've seen the last few years, Underwater trades character development for one sided action that throws us immediately into a disastrous situation that's only followed by dozens of other really bad scenarios. One by one people die. And we're not shocked. 

Mommy says brush your teeth
three times a day or the scary
monsters will get you. Listen to mommy. 

Where the original Ridley Scott Alien incorporated a hard luck, greasy crew that hadn't seen Earth in years, Underwater puts its audience in a cavernous rig miles under the surface. Sadly though, the cast isn't given an ounce of time to establish who they are before we're pitted against a series of awful events. From the opening sequence we're thrown into disaster, which works at times and falters at others. Barring any endearing connection to the people that we're watching on screen we can't ever really sympathize with their fight or flight situation. Yet, Stewart definitely notches up her athletic prowess for a movie that sees her battle a bevy of Lovecraftian sea beasts from the abyss. Honestly, that's where this one sees its best moments. The creature design is a departure from the norm and gives us something fresh to look at, even when the details are muddled underneath a bog of mucky sand and ooze. 

Another stand out is the rather European look that this has. Straight up copying much of the color palette and lighting techniques from the aforementioned Alien saga, it definitely sounds and looks excellent. Unfortunately, the finished project suffers due to languishing plot elements and a story that needed a rewrite that should have included some semblance of personality for the characters. Adding TJ Miller's typical snark really doesn't help matters either. 

Latching onto a constant feeling of cold, calculated dread, Eubank and his crew definitely created a spectacular looking film, but they ultimately failed at the most important part. For an audience to care about characters, they really need some defined personality. Each person here is just a cutout lacking humanity. While Stewart continuously delivers on making her skillset known, Underwater is fair at best. If you have nothing else to watch this weekend, this might satisfy your longing for another in a long line of directors trying to recapture lightning in a bottle. Once again, they failed. And they'll continue to do so until they come up with a new premise that doesn't regurgitate our modern classics.

-Chris George