Underwater (USA 2019) Dir: William Eubank Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Mamadou Athie
In the near future, an ethically dodgy mining corporation has constructed a huge drilling rig seven miles below the ocean surface at the bottom of the Mariana trench.
Opening with a monologue by Hollywood pixie Kristen Stewart consisting of some cod-philosophical word salad, director Eubank’s second effort soon gets down to business when a huge underwater earthquake rips through the rig killing most of its crew.
Realising they are fubared with a capital F, the survivors led by Nora (Stewart) and Captain Lucien (a suitably grizzled Cassel), must attempt a hazardous underwater trek along the seabed in order to reach another station that houses functioning escape pods that will take them to the surface. However, the drilling operation and subsequent earthquake has awakened a previously unknown hostile species…
UNDERWATER looks great, the cast is good and the film succeeds mightily in generating its claustrophobic hostile environment and the tense race against time pace that is central to its premise. The problem the film has is that it doesn’t really add anything new to the ‘creatures beneath the sea’ sci-fi/horror sub genre. Consequently it comes off as a rather expensive but po-faced update of 80’s straight to video faves like DEEPSTAR SIX and LEVIATHAN, and certainly doesn’t have the conceptual chops of it’s big budget genre stablemates like THE ABYSS. A well made genre entry with some inventive deaths and lovely production design, alas let down by its formulaic story and an over-reliance on see-it-all-before CGI in the third act.
A Quiet Place (2018) US Dir: John Krasinski Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds
Several months after the world’s human population has been decimated by blind extra terrestrial creatures that hunt by sound, the Abbott family continue to survive on their isolated farm. When their youngest son Beau is killed by one of the creatures, their congenitally deaf daughter Regan blames herself. Meanwhile their engineer father Lee (Krasinski) continues to try and upgrade a cochlear implant for Regan and figure out the creatures weakness, while making fruitless attempts to contact any survivors in the outside world. Lee’s heavily pregnant wife Evelyn (Blunt) concentrates on continuing the children’s education whilst making preparations to give birth to their fourth child… A QUIET PLACE is a terrific achievement and has gone some way to restoring my faith that the major Hollywood studios can still produce engaging multi layered storytelling, and not just endless paint by numbers superhero franchise entries. Developed from a spec script by Scott Woods and Bryan Fuller, that originally featured only one line of dialogue, writer/director Krasinski sensibly opts for a restrained ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ approach to what is essentially a creature feature overlaid with familial angst, the film wisely opts for a slow reveal of the creatures, and not just of their appearance but also their abilities and weaknesses. This is a firmly character driven piece that doesn’t drown the audience in flashy cgi or clunky exposition, and is all the better for it. It says a lot about how the cgi revolution has resulted in too many films prioritising spectacle over narrative that A QUIET PLACE’s old school approach to storytelling feels so refreshing. One of the best examples of this comes from how the backstory of the aliens arrival on our planet and the subsequent breakdown of society is told subtly through glimpsed newspaper cuttings in Lee’s workshop and snippets of deftly crafted dialogue in what has to be a textbook example of world building in a film. The performances are uniformly excellent, with real life husband and wife Krasinski and Blunt exuding a mixture of fortitude and quiet desperation in the face of their grief and their unspoken fears of what the future may hold for the family. Special mention must go to the sound design by Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van Der Ryn along with the score by Marco Beltrami taking on more significance than usual given the film’s central premise and the attendant sparseness of dialogue for extended periods of the run time. Stripped of its sci fi trappings, the theme that lies at the heart of the film is the fear of every parent of not being able to protect their children from outside forces beyond their control. The horror genre functions best when putting our repressed fears and anxieties under the microscope, forcing them to the surface through a fantastical narrative device (in this case blind alien predators.) A QUIET PLACE is a welcome return to old school sci-fi horror in the tradition of ALIEN and THE THING where concept, characterisation and narrative take precedence over empty spectacle (not that the film is deficient in the FX department but Krasinski as writer/director wisely keeps the creatures full reveal for the climax.) Hopefully the film’s healthy box office returns (US$332,583,447 on a bufget ofUS$17,000,00) will bode well for more thoughtful and narrative driven genre cinema of this quality.
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