Kristen Stewart’s latest film is an ode to claustrophobic classics — from Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ (1979), which saw a space crew grimly battle to survive against an unknown life force, to James Cameron’s ‘The Abyss’ (1989), which pit a civilian diving team against a foreign aquatic species on their mission to retrieve a lost nuclear submarine.
‘Underwater’ takes a page out of these creature features, as Stewart and her cohorts march across the ocean in a seemingly impossibly bid to make it to land alive, without succumbing to the hostile forces they meet along the way. As the film hits theatres this weekend, we break down the most interesting facts about the $80 million (Dh293.8 million) production.
1. ‘Underwater’ follows the aftermath of a natural disaster… and the monsters that it brings to light
A group of strangers living in a mining rig must fight for their life after an earthquake hits. Norah Price (Kristen Stewart), a blue-collar electrical engineer, has to lead them on a deadly trudge across the ocean. But what they don’t account for is coming across an unfriendly species in the murky depths of the water, who threatens their hope to ever gap the 5,000 miles that separate them from land.
2. It’s the film’s straightforward concept that made it so appealing
Producer Jenno Topping said it’s the film’s simplicity combined with the great unknown that drew her in. “[It] follows a group of individuals attempting to move from point A to point B on the bottom of the ocean while outrunning a monster. It built upon the traditions of both of [thriller and horror] genres while exploiting a really cool, mysterious environment: the bottom of the ocean, where 95 per cent of it has yet to be explored.”
3. Kristen Stewart’s character is an homage to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in ‘Alien’
‘Alien’ changed the game when it released, so it’s no surprise that the film’s protagonist Ripley, played memorably by Sigourney Weaver, inspired Stewart’s character here. “It didn’t matter if Ripley was male or female, and that made her such a trailblazer. No one else had really done a character like that,” said ‘Underwater’ screenwriter Adam Cozad. “That was the real inspiration, to try to write Norah as a character where her sex really had nothing to do with what her arc was. That felt like a very authentic representation of a character. It felt like the world we’re living in right now, it’s the right message to put out there.”
4. Norah Price is a good fit for Kristen Stewart’s restrained style of acting
According to Stewart, her character is “quite literally caught with her pants down, brushing her teeth in the morning, when the rig explodes.” And while different people react differently to traumatic situations, “Norah is closed off, a little emotionally unavailable. In the course of the movie, you find out that she’s in the midst of a pretty intensive grieving process and she really doesn’t think she has anything left to lose. Just when it might be too late, she realises that there’s really never a point where you have nothing to lose. There’s always something to keep fighting for. Life is precious.”
5. It was Stewart’s idea for her character to shave her head
Producer Tonia Davis said Stewart was “so game” for her onscreen transformation from the get-go. “Literally, 48 hours later, 72 hours later, we were at a hotel room with a hairdresser, and she was shaving her head and dyeing it blonde. To meet somebody who was so immediately committed and not just willing to do the intensely hard work of shooting this movie but also was really willing to completely transform herself to do it? That was just inspiring to us all.”
6. It wasn’t the most comfortable movie to film…
The heavy-duty suits that the actors had to wear weighed between 29kg and 45kg and could handle being submerged underwater or strung up from the ceiling.
“I couldn’t go two steps without breaking a sweat. It was so physical,” admitted Stewart.
Co-star John Gallagher Jr didn’t think he’d ever get used to it. “The first day that I put [the suit] on, my first thought was, ‘I’m not going to be able to finish the movie — I can’t do this,’” he said.
“Every scenario was super, super physically stifled and either wet or freezing cold or very hot,” said Stewart. “Like, there was never anything that didn’t feel very extreme, so the preparation was limited and the actual moment-to-moment experience was [the goal].”
Stewart also praised director William Eubank — who marks his third film with ‘Underwater’ — for being a sympathetic presence on set and not expecting his cast to “do things that were gruesome”.
“He was always like, ‘No, I get it, it’s not easy to mine for emotional beads’ … I think a lot of times directors are like, ‘I’m a director, you’re an actor, do your job.’ And he was just more of an accompaniment. None of us had to do anything alone,” she said.
Don’t miss it!
‘Underwater’ is out in the UAE on January 9.