Stephen Sommers' Deep Rising (1998)


Stephen Sommers' filmography is a trove of cinematic wonders, a host of films dedicated to the absolute joy that is found on the big screen.  They are campy, silly, violent, and scary, and yet each distinct feature is also a loving homage to the silver screen.  His cult classic, the underwater creature feature Deep Rising is a thrilling action/horror/comedy hybrid that features some of the director's best work.  Combining a stacked character actor ensemble, wonderfully repulsive CGI and practical effects, and an unrelenting sense of neo-swashbuckling adventure, this lost classic is due for a resurgence.  

Finnegan, a rogue pilot with an eccentric crew, is hired by a team of mercenaries to transport them to a helpless cruise ship so that it may be plundered.  When they arrive, the ship appears deserted, however as they begin to explore, they realize something has infested the pleasure vessel, something ancient, and starving. Sommers' breezy script flits between horror, action, and comedy without effort, transitioning to each genre in a tempo of bullets, blood, and slime.  Treat Williams stars as Finnegan, an obvious Han Solo derivative, however Williams' natural charm makes the role his own.  It's obvious that Williams' Finnegan is no stranger to violence, yet, the way Williams balances the gravity of the horror with a whimsical sense of adventure only serves to endear his hero more.  He's supported by Famke Jansen and Kevin J. O'Connor. Jansen (Golden Eye, 100 Feet) plays Trillian St. James, an international thief who is aboard the vessel to steal the riches of the patrons.  Her chemistry with Williams is, much like everything within the world of Deep Rising, playful and serious, undercutting genre cliche's with genuine humor.  O'Connor (The Mummy) continues to serve as the comedy relief and it is his grease monkey Joey who steals virtually every scene.  Rounding out the cast is a veritable who's who of acting: Wes Studi, Anthony Heald, Cliff Curtis, and Djimon Hounsou portray the mercenaries, with each getting time to shine, be in hilarious death scenes or moments of karma infused comeuppance. 

Industrial Light and Magic teamed with practical effects legend Rob Bottin (The Thing) to create the creatures and their victims.  This is a shockingly violent film that is only tempered by the humorous approach.   Howard Atherton's faux-grimy cinematography creates a world of two visions.  The first is the industrial innards of the ship, filled with machismo, sweat, and guns.  However, the use of color and attention to detail reveal a world of golden age homage in which creatures wormed their way into the cinema every weekend.  This is the power of Deep Rising, while it could be dismissed as a throwaway horror film, its abject love for its predecessors instantly elevates it, with the final result being a movie for people who love movies.  There is something magical about seeing a film for the first time, especially a genre blender and this is no exception.  

Now available for digital rental, Deep Rising is Stephen Sommer's greatest effort.  While there are flaws, they can easily be overlooked in favor of the pure genre worshipping action that pervades every sequence.  Combine this unabashed reverence for its source materials with a cast of extremely talented actors and the yield is a rollicking nautical haunted house in which the ghosts are slime-dripping worms that drink you alive and the exterminators are rogues and killers who find a hilarious sense of kinship along the way...sort of....

--Kyle Jonathan