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Film / Underwater

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"We drilled to the bottom of the ocean, and we don’t know what came out."
Paul: We're just going to walk with insufficient oxygen across the bottom of the ocean?
Lee: We don’t know what’s out there.

Underwater is a 2020 science fiction action film directed by William Eubank in his third feature film outing, written by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad. The film stars Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie, Gunner Wright, and T.J. Miller.

Seven miles deep below the ocean's surface, mechanical engineer Norah Price (Stewart) is stationed at a deep-sea drilling site when an earthquake strikes, trapping her and several other researchers down in the damaged facility. While attempting to reach the safety of the surface, they discover that they aren't as alone as they first imagined...

The film was the final film under the 20th Century Fox label, as Disney renamed Fox to "20th Century Studios" to distance the subsidiary from Fox Corporation. The first film to use that label was The Call of the Wild (2020).

Preview: Trailer

Underwater contains examples of:

  • Action Survivor: Norah is a slightly built mechanical engineer, but she holds her nerve throughout the film, and manages to dispatch some of the environmental hazards.
  • An Aesop: From the monologue at the end, we are apparently meant to learn from this story that feelings of helplessness should be overcome by the realization that we are capable of doing something about our situations.
  • Alice Allusion: Paul makes numerous references to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, including a white rabbit doll that he insists on taking with him.
  • All for Nothing: Those 22 people Lucien put into pods? Intercepted by Fish People, as based on the newspaper clippings from the ending, Emily and Smith are the only survivors of the whole incident.
  • Almost Out of Oxygen: Smith's CO₂ scrubber is damaged when the habitat reactor explodes. This leaves him mostly dead weight when the characters have to move into the water, as he has to keep his movement to a minimum so he doesn't die from CO₂ poisoning.
  • Ancient Evil: Tian Industries' drilling in the Mariana Trench ends up unleashing the ultimate ancient evil, Cthulhu itself. It's only thanks to the actions of Norah that the monster and its spawn are prevented from reaching the surface and destroying humanity. However, it's implied that Tian know Cthulhu is down there, and intend to continue digging to try and unearth it again, despite the obvious threat it poses to humanity.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Emily gives one to Smith when he's passed out and it seems as though they're the only two left.
  • Anyone Can Die: There were Tian Industries employees killed when the submarine started to get destroyed. The other survivors are in clear danger, due to either the creatures or the water pressure. At the end, only Smith and Haversham survive.
  • Artistic License – Biology: At high pressure (which starts around 130-180 feet down), normal air is no longer breathable; nitrogen becomes a euphoric, and oxygen becomes a corrosive toxin. As a result, deep technical divers are forced to use exotic gas mixtures like heliox: a mixture of not oxygen and nitrogen, but oxygen and helium.note  Since the habitats and other structures are shown to be under high pressure already, the habitats would have to be using exotic gas to keep from killing the crew. Heliox, however, gives a diver the typical "helium cartoon voice" (which would've been quite comical for the film) as well as leaving personnel feeling quite chilly (as helium is an excellent thermal conductor). Consequently, the film should have had a bunch of quack-voiced people either wearing enough to stay warm or, if they were really wedded to the underwear concept, shivering badly.
  • Artistic License – Physics:
    • Despite showing the effects of high pressure differential failures (and how!), the film contradicts itself by having an utility tunnel open to the sea floor as if it was an equal-pressure habitat. Were the habitats not at least equal in pressure to the outside water, partially-flooded structures like that would quickly flood completely. Only with an air pressure equal to the outside water would the structure not flood despite having open leaks to the sea. This would mean the crew and their suits would also be at pressure for the depth, negating the whole "imploding diver" situation. However, this is swept under the rug to maintain a constant threat of awful death and the tension that brings to the audience.
    • Similarly, if there is a pressure differential as implied from the setting, the ocean pressure on the rig exceeds 16000 psi. If there was a rupture like in the Cold Open, no one in the hallways would have time to do anything.
  • Awesome Underwater World: The film's underwater setting is maximized for plenty of horror potential, and approximately half of the tension is based around the protagonists having to walk across the ocean floor to safety. Bonus points for mostly being filmed underwater with practical effects (not so awesome for Kristen Stewart, who is terrified of water, however).
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Norah goes through the whole disaster and even getting swallowed whole temporarily with nothing more than a cut across the cheek. To be fair, the other characters look fine too.
  • Bifauxnen: Norah has Boyish Short Hair, and when she helps pull Paul out of the rubble, he calls her "You beautiful flat-chested elven creature."
  • Bittersweet Ending: Smith and Haversham take the two remaining pods to the surface, with Norah blowing up the station and killing most of the creatures. However, Tian Industries is taking great lengths to silence the two survivors and announces their plans to resume digging as soon as possible.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Of the main group, Rodrigo is the first to bite it. Other members of the drill team die before Rodrigo, such as the two unfortunate members that don't escape the onrushing water from the base collapse.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • Norah reassures Emily in the end that she can fix the third pod and make it to the surface. The very next scene she's just sitting on the floor and waiting for the inevitable.
    • Lucien earlier reassures Norah the same way moments before he is pulled up by one of the creatures and dies via explosive decompression.
  • Book Ends: The movie begins and ends with Norah narrating on the effects of living without natural light has on a person, and also with newspaper clippings that provide exposition.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Norah has a buzz cut, which was an idea by Kristen Stewart - as she felt Norah would keep her hair short for health and safety reasons.
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: Norah sacrifices herself to destroy the station and hurt Cthulhu.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Paul is an unfunny jokester and a weird dude overall, but he is obviously very experienced and competent on his job.
  • The Captain: Lucien. He stayed behind just to make sure he can save as many people as possible and then organises all the effort to get remaining crew members to safety, going way beyond the call of duty.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Early on, there's mention that the cooling systems for the core have failed and it will likely blow eventually. At the end, Norah disables all the failsafes and blows up the entire station to take out the monsters.
  • Clothing Damage: Whatever explosion trapped Paul under the rubble, it also destroyed his clothes to shreds.
  • Cold Equation: Norah is confronted with this right off the bat, and holds off closing a door for as long as she can so that other characters might live. Unfortunately, the two she's trying to save are just too far and she's forced to close the door on them. This is an ongoing theme throughout the film.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Tian Industries runs on Umbrella/Weyland-Yutani rules, deciding that continuing to dig is more important than the lives of anybody they send down and maybe the whole world, and this decision is one they made long before the film even starts. Even worse, it might be actually out for something much more sinister...
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: Played straight. Both sides appear to be affected by this. When it's just one creature, it can overpower the pull of the entire team and tear a suit apart. By the time it's down to 3 humans, facing many creatures, the smallest team member can take them on one-to-one. Possibly justified because we don't get to see the monster ripping Paul in half; it might be a much bigger specimen than the ones they later fight.
  • Cosmic Horror Reveal: The movie begins as a Disaster Movie, with a group of survivors of an industrial accident at an drilling facility at the bottom of the ocean trying to make their way to the surface, however as the movie progresses it becomes clear that the "accident" was an attack by Cthulhu with an army of vicious Fish People at its command.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death:
    • Special award goes to Rodrigo for being the most (relatively) mundane. While nearly everyone else is attacked by the creatures, he is killed because his helmet is faulty, so it cracks under the intense ocean pressure and compromises the rest of his suit, resulting in a very sudden and gory death.
    • The same thing happens to Lucien, due to a monster pulling him up too fast.
    • Paul is grabbed by a creature as he's trying to squeeze through a gap. When the rest of the group try to save him, the creature violently yanks him out of his diving suit, crushing his head and leaving a bloody display of gore inside the helmet.
  • Dare to Be Badass: When someone has go out and do something dangerous, Paul jokingly tells the openly shaken and terrified Haversham that this 'is her moment' to try lighten the mood before going out there himself.
  • The Darkness Gazes Back: The monsters' eyes reflect light very well, often making their eyes the only visible part of them.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Both averted and played straight. Virtually no time is spent before the accident which kicks off the plot, during which Norah is the only character seen. But then, during the characters' desperate attempts to survive, some character development does occur, but not all of those characters make it.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: A quite literal example happens at the movie's climax, when Norah overloads the engines at Roebuck Station, apparently disabling the Eldritch Abomination (confirmed to be Cthulhu by the film's director) that attacked the platforms. On the other hand, given Cthulhu's ability to almost instantly reform in "The Call of Cthulhu," whether it was actually neutralized or not remains ambiguous. All we know for sure from the end credits is that it hasn't risen to destroy the surface world... yet.
  • Dripping Disturbance: Played for suspense, as Norah notices water ominously dripping from the ceiling above her shortly before a large section of the underwater station gives out and begins to rapidly flood.
  • Dug Too Deep: It turns out that Tian Industries did this, unleashing or at least disturbing the creatures that menace the main cast. It's left ambiguous, however, whether this was an accident or intentional.
  • Dwindling Party: The Kepler Station starts with crew of 316, but we never see any of those. Not counting a couple who only have seconds of screentime before dying, the characters on screen are a group of six, out of whom four die and two barely make it to the surface.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Norah dies while blowing up a nuclear reactor in Cthulhu's face, at least temporarily taking him out of commission and killing loads of Deep Ones.
  • Economy Cast: The movie spends no effort to introduce any characters besides the ones who end up together after the initial disaster. Besides seeing a couple of dead bodies and hearing some background radio voices, that leaves a cast listing of less than ten.
  • Eldritch Abomination: As it turns out, Cthulhu is the creature spawning all the monsters that hunt down the remaining crew members.
  • Eldritch Ocean Abyss: The cast is stuck nearly seven miles underwater and hunted by Fish People and an Eldritch Abomination implied in the film — and outright confirmed by the director — to be Cthulhu.
  • Exact Time to Failure: Due to the damage to the station and its structure, the thermal core powering it all is unstable and will melt down in about half hour, adding a strict time limit before the situation is completely helpless. By the end of the film, Norah accelerates the mechanical failure to cause a deliberate explosion and bring everything around the station down.
  • Exty Years from Publication: The film takes place in 2050 according to the date on a newspaper at the end that reports the rescue of the survivors.
  • Failed a Spot Check: At one point, Norah shines her suit lights ahead of her looking around at some wreckage. She fails to notice the reflection of two eyes staring back at her from among the wreckage. This could also be a Freeze-Frame Bonus only because the eyes reflected by the light goes by very fast and it is very dark other than where Norah shines the light, causing her to miss seeing them.
  • Fanservice: Any time spent out of the diving suits, Norah is only wearing a tight bra, maybe with an open jacket. They also make it clear that you can't wear pants in the suits, so half of the time she running around in her panties, too. (In one scene, she’s found and put on a loose-fitting shirt — that’s hitched up above her waist, apparently specifically so you can see them.) Hits Fan Disservice when Paul disrobes with the camera right on his butt, and he groans after seeing his underwear was shredded too.
  • A Father to His Men: Lucien packed as many people as he could into rescue pods and then spent the rest of the film making sure the remaining people are delivered to safety, while making sure to keep up the spirit, but without lying.
  • First-Name Basis: Everyone but Smith is using their first name. It's implied a few times the specific members of the crew barely knew or even met each other prior to the disaster, so they take a moment to memorize their names.
  • Fish People: The creatures that menace the crew following the escape from Kepler 822 are pale-skinned humanoids with piscine traits, revealed to be Deep Ones by the reveal that Cthulhu was responsible for the so-called earthquake.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Norah notices water dripping from the ceiling mere seconds before the station starts flooding.
  • Five-Token Band: In addition to the two white males and the white female, we have a Frenchman, an Englishwoman of Chinese (by way of Singapore) and English (by way of Zambian) descent, and a Mauritian-American man who also has a Spanish first name.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The opening credits mention that Tian Industries are accused of covering something up relating to their operations in the Mariana Trench. During the course of the movie, it becomes apparent that they knew about the creatures and didn't care.
    • The film opens with the hull of the habitat being compromised, and we later see a multi-thousand-ton drill having been displaced. Both of these seem inconsistent with the man-sized creatures attacking the party. Then they reach the main drill and realize there's a much bigger one out there.
    • On a more mundane level, Lucien says his daughter is fourteen, only for Norah to correct him and say she'd be about her age. Norah later learns Lucien's daughter died years ago when she was fourteen.
    • Norah theorizes that Rodrigo knew he was taking a faulty helmet and chose to sacrifice himself to allow the rest of them to get to safety. Captain Lucien later sacrifices himself so that Norah won't be dragged up with him, and she then sacrifices herself to both destroy the monster and let Smith and Emily make it to the surface.
    • Early on in the film while the cast are trying to escape the Kepler a loud echoing sound can be heard at multiple points which causes Rodrigo to wonder if a earthquake really caused the disaster. None of the creatures encountered by the cast sound anywhere near as deep as these sounds. This sound is eventually revealed to have been coming from a much larger sea creature.
    • After coming across Captain Lucien's old locker at the abandoned Shepard Station, Norah finds a map of Tian's drilling projects alongside several sketches — one of which is H. P. Lovecraft's doodle of Cthulhu, who is revealed to be the entity responsible for the "earthquake" at the beginning of the film.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: When Norah is trying to force Haversham into the last pod, she gives her a punch in the face, partly to force her back into the pod, but partly to calm her enough that Haversham will listen to Norah's (valid) reason that Haversham should be the one to go.
  • The Hero Dies: Norah accepts death to secure the explosion that kills the creatures.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Norah speculates that Rodrigo knowingly took a faulty helmet even though he'd die as soon as they left the habitat. It's not clear if she's right or just feeling guilty.
    • Lucien and Norah each pull this at the midpoint and climax of the film respectively, with both attempting to save someone from the creatures.
  • In Space, Everyone Can See Your Face: The diving suits have lights inside their helmets so that we can see the actors' faces.
  • Irony: By the end, it becomes clear that the risky, desperate walk on the bottom of the ocean was safer than directly picking a rescue pod to the surface.
  • Kill It Through Its Stomach: When one of the creatures swallows Norah headfirst like a snake, she blasts it from the inside with a flare gun and then forces her way out through the hole in its back.
  • Last-Name Basis: All characters are addressed with their first name...but Smith is always referred by his surname. We never learn what his name is. The credits reveal that his name is Liam.
  • Let Me Get This Straight...: When Lucien present his plan to walk on the ocean's floor, both Paul and Norah - the only other survivors aware of the risks involved - instantly question the insanity of the plan, pointing its obvious flaws, culminating with the following exchange.
    Norah: I'm-I'm not trying to be... (Beat) Can you just admit we might die doing that?
    Lucien: (without any delay) Yeah. But can you admit that we might live doing this?
  • Little Miss Badass: Though not a child, Norah is physically the smallest person still alive but is the only one who manages to kill a full-size creature.
  • The Load: Once his air scrubber is damaged, Smith is reduced to this, since he can't make any moves and must conserve whatever air he has left, forcing the rest of the group to literally drag him behind them.
  • The Lost Lenore: It's revealed that one of the reasons for Norah's cynicism is her fiancé's needless death while diving alone.
  • Lovecraft Lite: The only thing keeping the movie from being a Cosmic Horror Story is the fact that the Eldritch Abomination and its Fish People minions are eminently killable and humans are all too capable of fighting back... and even then, with the director's confirmation that the eldritch abomination itself is the Cthulhu, one must keep in mind that Cthulhu has been incapacitated by, but ultimately survived, something of similar force in the past, and the implication that Tian Industries not only intends to resume exploring the trench but even knows of Cthulhu's existence and doesn't care, it could easy loop back around to being a Cosmic Horror Story anyway.
  • Ludicrous Gibs:
    • This is what happens to Rodrigo when he is exposed to the ocean pressure with a faulty helmet. Little bits of him even hit Norah at one point.
    • One of the creatures snags Paul, manages to rip a hole in his suit and pull the rest of his body through that hole. All we actually see is the bloody helmet.
  • Magic Feather: Paul gives Emily his plush bunny as something to protect at all costs, solely to calm her down and keep her focused. It becomes a Tragic Keepsake once Paul is torn apart.
  • Meaningful Background Event: When Paul is waiting for his turn to be pulled through a small gap, the silhouette of a creature can be seen approaching in the tunnel behind him, illuminated by a flashing emergency light. Said creature brutally murders him a few minutes later.
  • Meaningful Name: Two, both companies
    • Tian Industries. You need "tian" to spell "Lovecraftian".
    • Pontus, the company name on several pieces of equipment and Norah's jacket, is also the name of a pre-Olympian, primordial personification of the sea.
  • Minimalist Cast: The only onscreen characters are the six submarine members and the creatures.
  • Monster Progenitor: Turns out the sea monsters are all the spawn of a giant humanoid squid creature that's slightly larger than the Roebuck station itself.
  • More Expendable Than You: Norah tries this twice, once with Lucien and once with Haversham, because both have people they care about while she's a loner. It doesn't work with Lucien, who is the captain and won't abide by saving himself at the expense of his crew, but she manages to get Haversham to escape to safety at the end.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Relatively downplayed, but Kristen Stewart does spend substantial stretches of the film running around in a prominent midriff-baring outfit.
  • Mundanger: "Underwater drilling rig gets wrecked by an apparent earthquake" is not an everyday event, but it is also definitely one which is real-world possible. Crushed by falling masonry? Drowning? Equipment failure? All mundane, all deadly, all present.
  • Naked on Arrival: Paul's introduction is after having his clothes destroyed.
  • Never Found the Body: In the backstory, Norah's fiancé went diving alone and was never seen again.
  • No One Gets Left Behind:
    • Lucien is the captain of the whole operation, so he deliberately stayed behind and packed as many people as he could into escape pods. It's not even about the usual "going down with the ship" melodrama, he explicitly cares about saving crew.
    • The whole group more or less ends up dragging Smith around once his scrubber gets damaged, despite him slowing them down and being useless.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • When leaving Kepler Station, Rodrigo puts on a faulty diving helmet and purposefully doesn't tell anyone. Norah is the only one to notice the cracks appearing in his visor as they open the door to the outside, causing her to briefly have this reaction before Rodrigo implodes.
    • Norah and Emily share one when they see the door to Roebuck station is cut off by a group of sleeping creatures. As it's the only way into the base, they have no choice but to risk it.
    • Norah again, when she fires a flare into the darkness and sees a titanic sea monster staring back at her.
  • Ominous Crack:
    • Implied when Norah notices dripping water inside the underwater station, before it rapidly goes From Bad to Worse.
    • This happens to Rodrigo's helmet, giving the characters a few moments to realize what's about to happen before it fails completely and the ocean pressure crushes him.
    • Midpoint Station is also damaged. Lucien just puts a finger to a glass panel and it starts cracking.
    • When Lucien and Norah are ascending too fast, their suits are making various cracking sounds from the pressure, until Lucien's visor starts to visibly crack.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Defied, as Norah, despite being able to troubleshoot computer hardware, points out that she's actually a mechanical engineer, and only knows how to hardwire the computers because of experience. Similarly, Haversham is a knowledgeable marine biologist, but is brand new to the site and is thus severely out of her element during the crisis.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Lucien's daughter died years before the story started.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Paul provides the majority of the humor in the film. When he dies, all joking noticeably stops.
  • Powered Armor: It's not shown explicitly, but the diving suits look like part space suit and part old-time dive suit, giving them a very hefty appearance. Realistically, even if it could protect people on the ocean floor, they would need to be powered for the person to move. If this is the case, however, it's not mentioned.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • At the climax, Norah narrates again on how living without light makes you lose all sense of time.
    Norah: So let's light this shit up.
    • She also yells the one PG-13 allowed "fuck" as she's being Swallowed Whole by one of the monsters and she struggles to bring up her Flare Gun to blast it dead.note 
  • Prefers Going Barefoot: Norah seems to prefer going barefoot even when the other crew members are wearing shoes.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: Shepard Station has been abandoned for years, yet when Norah makes her way there everything in the facility is in working order, including power and life support. Sure, it's dated and seen better times, but it's operational enough to get a shower.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale:
    • The station's crew is given as 316 people, but this is basically impossible. Not only it would be insanely overcrowded for an obviously very automated facility, with its consequent waste of resources and space, but it also turns out that the latter's escape pods are single-seater, implying a design created around a small crew. The latter means either the crew was working without individual escape guarantee, which would be unsafe even for an evil corporation, or the station really had 316 vehicles with no other usage than escaping, which would be an engineering (and logistic) nightmare.
    • A recorded voice on one of the rigs says that the deep drilling rigs are producing 140 billion tons of crude a year. That's about 383 million tons a day, all presumably going through one pipe. Current oil production for the entire world is about 12 million tons per day.
  • Sequel Hook: The film ends with images of news articles indicating that Tian intends to continue its drilling efforts, which raises questions about what else they might wake up.
  • Shipper on Deck: Norah likes the relationship between Smith and Haversham, and she decides to sacrifice herself so both can live as a couple.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Paul's death marks the end of all attempts at comedy during the story.
  • Shout-Out: The let go moment with Lucien and Norah is something straight from Gravity, with two characters floating uncontrollably and the older of the duo performing Heroic Sacrifice by letting go of the teetering cord.
  • Shower of Angst: Norah takes one when she gets to the Shepard Station and is (apparently) the only survivor left.
  • Sinking Ship Scenario: Sinking underwater drilling platform, rather.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Norah is a cynic at the start, believing it to be easier and more realistic. She maintains that there's a strong possibility they'll all die merely trying to get to safety. The film ends on the idealistic end when Norah chooses to use her impending death to help someone else.
  • Survivor Guilt: Both Rodrigo and Norah feel terrible about the Cold Equation they had to perform in the opening sequence, but are repeatedly told to stop thinking about it by Lucien and focus on making sure whoever is still alive makes it back.
  • Swallowed Whole: One of the creatures tries to do this to Norah when it can't get through her suit, unhinging its jaw to completely envelop her suit. This just makes it easier for her to shoot a flare through it.
  • Taking You with Me: Norah decides to blow up Roebuck Station, killing herself — but most importantly, the creatures going after the escape modules... maybe.
  • Talking to Themself: When Norah finds Emily, the stress combined with low oxygen content of her suit made her babble semi-coherently to nobody in particular, as Smith is unconscious, anyway.
  • Taught by Television: Rodrigo explains what kind of destruction a core meltdown will cause... then mentions he doesn't really know, he just watched a lot of anime.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Norah is the tomboy, being cynical, tough, and even kills one of the creature, and takes out Cthulhu. Emily is the long-haired girly girl, being far less cynical and more prone to overtly panicking in the face of extreme danger, though thankfully not to the detriment of anyone else.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Norah's fiancé once went scuba diving alone, breaking the first rule of diving. Norah mentions that Search and Rescue never found any trace of him.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Emily Haversham is The Load of the group at first, prone to thinking the worst and panicking (although not to a detrimental degree). In the third act, she's literally dragging her man across the ocean floor determined to get him to safety. She's also prepared to stay behind with Norah and help her fix the faulty pod.
  • Two Girls to a Team: Out of a cast of six, Norah and Emily are the only females. Norah comes across the body of a female colleague at the start but that's it.
  • Underwater Base: Both Roebuck and Shepard Stations.
  • Vasquez Always Dies: Even when "Vasquez" is the primary protagonist. Norah doesn't make it out in the end, while the more feminine Haversham lives.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Norah is a Rare Female Example. She's shirtless for the entire film save for one very brief sequence.
  • Weakened by the Light: The creatures instinctively flee from bright light, although it does not appear to actually harm them.