2020, the Year of Hindsight and How 13 Minutes UNDERWATER Can Make a Difference

It’s a new year, the year of hindsight… 2020, and with it comes another promise from me to blog more. As much as I enjoy critiquing movies on The Necrocasticon, my reviewing roots lie within the written word. So expect weekly, if not daily, updates on this site now.

When I don’t write something new, I’m going to republish out of print, old reviews and Op/Eds I wrote at This Is Infamous and Rue Morgue here. I’ll populate this site with stuff for you to read… some people have this incorrect assumption of me. They seem to think I’m “some new indy writer” who “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” 

They couldn’t be further from the truth. 

For a decade, within roughly half a million words, I’ve covered entertainment news. I’ve grown as a journalist with integrity and clear objectivity of the products in question. I’ve reviewed and critiqued hundreds of hours of music, television series and films. Throw in some thousands of pages of novels, comic books, and games, and you’ve got an impressive resume. It’s time I remain consistent with my strengths. If nothing, blogging and reviewing are writing. I found my voice in this medium, where better to continue the maintenance?

You have to admit, 2019’s crop of horror films was a stale offering. Aside from a few stand out movies, including MIDSOMMAR and DOCTOR SLEEP, horror took a huge hit on the big screen last year. Jordan Peele’s follow up to GET OUT, US, fell to the sophomore slump. The MCU set the tone for the year, with Superhero blockbusters AVENGERS: ENDGAME topping all the charts and making box office records. Supervillains, too had their time in the limelight, as JOKER surpassed all expectations to become the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time and gather an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

In order for a horror film to be successful, it must bond with its audience in some manner. Too many of the films of 2019 fell victim to this. The cast of MIDSOMMAR wanted you to kick them in their babymakers. Even Danny in DOCTOR SLEEP was a reprehensible person. And what about the adult cast of IT? Who cared what happened to them.

UNDERWATER, the first horror film to hit in 2020, nearly suffers from some of this same malady. It’s no fault of the actors or the director. They do a great job, and it’s this work that keeps the story together. William Eubanks gets every bit of emotion he can out his cast. Even the often panned Kristin Stewart delivers her character in a believable manner. Sorry, but if you came here to see me shit on Ms. Stewart you will be disappointed. She sold me with her portrayal of Joan Jett in THE RUNAWAYS. Even though writers Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad screwed the pooch on this one, by forgetting a time tested storytelling technique. If they had utilized it, UNDERWATER would be a summer blockbuster, making a respectable amount of cash. Hashtag talk about that later.

Even the crop of NETFLIX films of 2019 fell well below where they could have gone. Streaming hits like BIRD BOX, THE SILENCE, and ELI, though successful on the platform, would have flopped at the theater. Exactly like UNDERWATER has done, only taking in $14 million it’s opening weekend. I feel UNDERWATER would have been a hit on NETFLIX in much the same manner as BIRD BOX. But the Evil Mouse Eared Empire wants to see returns on their investment.

Made three years ago before FOX sold out to the Mouse, Disney execs are relieved. They’ve done what studios traditionally do with shit films, dumping it in the winter dead zone, that first weekend of the new year. The numbers didn’t lie. They’ve popped another TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX zit on its face, acquired when they bought the struggling studio. DARK PHOENIX was the expected flop, and THE NEW MUTANTS is rumored to be as bad, if not worse, than a 70’s live-action X-Men TV would have been. 

Why did it fall on its face and drown? The answer is simple. When you go seven miles to the bottom of the ocean, you need thirteen minutes.

I’ve seen a few of my peers compare this movie to ALIEN or THE THING. Let’s not go there, please. It’s got a monster or two in it, yes. But is it a Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror movie? I’ll leave that up to you to decide. I’ve not made up my mind yet on this. I refuse to spoil the movie by revealing what I think has gotten some of my peers all giddy like toddlers at a petting zoo. With that being said, I know one thing about this movie that separates it even further from the aforementioned Cosmic Horror classics. It’s the film’s only flaw, albeit a mortal wound for a theatrical release.

Thirteen minutes.

UNDERWATER’s run time is 94 minutes.

ALIEN’s run time was 117 minutes.

THE THING’s run time was  109 minutes.

UNDERWATER is missing an opening sequence. A sequence familiarizing you with the characters you will follow in this adventure. This plagues many modern films, as a result, many of them come off as cheating for their “twists”, as they are often foreshadowed in an opening set-piece as I mention. It also prevents you from bonding with the characters. As a result, you don’t care when people die. There is no sense of urgency.  

ALIEN did it beautifully with the wake scene to open the film. THE THING executed it with skill as we followed a dog through OUTPOST 31. You witnessed ticks and quirks and personality traits of all your cast, each one allowing you to bond just a little with each of them… before they get killed before your eyes. Imagine how fucking bad JOHN WICK would have been if they didn’t establish the death of his wife and kill the dog?

Kristen Stewart stars in Twentieth Century Fox’s “Underwater”.

For as good as the movie is, ultimately UNDERWATER is JOHN WICK without a puppy. It needed a 13-minute scene in the beginning, introducing us to our cast, telling us their flaws, their motivations. Establish Norah’s mourning of losing her fiance in this part of the film. The Captain’s death wish and remorse for his daughter… The love and the marital bond between Emily Haversham (Jessica Henwick) and engineer Liam Smith (John Gallagher Jr). The Godamned bunny TJ Miller’s Paul Abel plays hot potato with throughout the film. And all the dead… make a couple of them marquise names, like DEEP BLUE SEA did with Samuel L. Jackson. Kill a kid or a big name in the opening of a movie and all bets are off. You’re telling me TJ Miller couldn’t have talked Ryan Reynolds into a cameo?

“Ryan, you die in the opening, like Steven Seagal in Executive Decision!”

“Great idea, TJ!”

Thirteen lousy minutes and a cameo. 

That’s all it would take to put UNDERWATER on a higher level. Thirteen minutes of exposition.  Show it through a dinner table dialogue, or a rec or break room work out scene. How much would this have cost? A few days of shooting? When the movie’s budget was an estimated $80million, they had the space to do it. Thirteen minutes would have gotten their money back. 

In spite of this dire flaw, UNDERWATER is well made, the special effects are top-notch. Because the cast excels, you are able to bond with the characters, more so than any other film from 2019. The story is simple and straight forward, it moves at a brisk pace. The monster effects are great, and they use the dark of the ocean depths to give them more life. 

Much like THE RITUAL from a couple of years ago, which kicked off the 2018 year of fantastic horror, UNDERWATER is a worthy start for the new decade’s crop of horror films. And with Cosmic Horror being the new darling sub-genre of horror, who knows where we will go next.

-30-

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s