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Review: Kristen Stewart brings balanced blend to familiar-feeling ‘Underwater’

Stewart, co-stars navigate impressively hostile waters but film breaks no new ground

Kristen Stewart in "Underwater"
Kristen Stewart in "Underwater" (Alan Markfield/20th Century Fox)

★★½ out of 5 -- Rated: PG-13 -- Run time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Back in 1979, “Alien” set a new benchmark for horror/suspense films with a story about people trapped in a confined space, battling a terrifying adversary. What made that motion picture stand even more apart was that it featured a strong female heroine, played by Sigourney Weaver.

Now in 2020, we have a new release that the filmmakers admit was inspired by that movie franchise and features another female character who must confront a terrifying challenge.

Kristen Stewart (“Twilight”) stars as Norah Price, an electrical engineer on board a huge mining station that’s based on the deep ocean floor. The movie begins with a disaster that forces her and a few remaining survivors to try and find a way to make it from their heavily damaged home base to a safer structure and then to the surface.

Naturally, there are many obstacles, some of them more hostile than others, but her character manages to rise to the occasion. Stewart plays the character with the right mix of fear, self-doubt, confidence and steely resolve.

Kristen Stewart in "Underwater." (Alan Markfield/20th Century Fox)

Director William Eubank (“The Signal”) is a former cinematographer and has made the movie extremely visual, with elaborate lighting set-ups to show the survivors climbing through the tight spaces of wrecked structures and eventually into the surrounding ocean waters. The style (and story) borrow from a number of past films with similar elements seen in such movies as “The Abyss,” “World War Z,” “Jaws,” “Das Boot” and of course the “Alien” series.

The script by Brian Duffield (“Jane Got a Gun”) and Adam Cozad (“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”) may have gone a little too far by requiring Stewart to perform a scene in her underwear, as Weaver did in the first “Alien” film.

The strong supporting cast includes Vincent Cassel (The French master thief in “Ocean’s 12”) as the heroic captain of the operation, as well as Jessica Henwick (“Game of Thrones”) as a terrified marine biology student, and John Gallagher Jr. (“The Newsroom”) as an operations expert. The standout co-star is comedian/actor T.J. Miller (“Silicon Valley”) as Paul, a wise-cracking welder who provides some much needed, clever humor to the story.

Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick, T.J. Miller, Kristen Stewart and Mamoudou Athie in "Underwater." (Alan Markfield/20th Century Fox)

If you’ve seen the trailer to this movie, you know there’s some kind of hostile life-forms that the survivors must contend with. These are impressively scary-looking with a disturbing way of finishing off their victims.

All of these elements are amped up by an intense music score by Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts.

“Underwater” succeeds in creating a claustrophobic atmosphere that will keep audiences on edge. But although the movie features high production values, there’s also a feeling that we’ve seen much of this story before. The film has borrowed from a lot of classics and the end result is an adequately-entertaining effort, but hardly a new benchmark.