There’s a storm on the way!
One of the biggest surprises that I saw in the cinema last year was Black Sea, a film about an underwater salvage crew staring Jude Law. I loved it for numerous reasons and arguably was the claustrophobic nature and the feeling that anyone could die at any moment and that it would be believable, something which is very rare in films.
I enjoyed Black Sea so much that it made my Top 10 films of 2014 and when I found out that there was a similar film by the name of Pressure, I just had to look into it.
It also contained two actors that I have previously been impressed by. Danny Huston is generally enjoyable in anything that he is in, and Matthew Goode had a great presence as Adrian Veidt in Watchmen. I hadn’t heard of Joe Cole or Alan McKenna before this so I can’t really comment on them.
A maintenance crew arrive at the site of an underwater pipe following instructions from their boss to go and fix it. With a storm approaching the crew are less than keen to go down, but the captain forces four men to go down and mend the problem. The group of four consists of Engel (Huston), Mitchell (Goode), Jones (Cole) and Hurst (McKenna), with the latter in the middle of an alcoholic binge.
Everything seems fine at first and the pipe is repaired quickly, but in the middle of returning to the surface, the pod containing all four suddenly plunges back to the surface of the ocean. With those of the ship not communicating, the four theorise about what is happening, with Mitchell speculating that the storm arrived and caused them to drop the ship.
Engel, a natural pessimist, goes out to inspect the damage and all appears fine until he comes across several dead bodies. It’s the rest of the crew and he realises that the ship has sank. The four are now trapped under several hundred metres under water with no means of escape and an ever dwindling oxygen supply. They can’t swim to the surface because the oxygen cables aren’t long enough and even if they did reach the surface, the pressure would cause their lungs to explode.
The four soon start developing claustrophobia and adopt different responses to the situation. Hurst becomes delusional and goes out to find the ship for himself, but his health, both physical and mental, is clearly gone and during an argument between Engel and Mitchell, Jones cuts off the oxygen supply to Hurst and he quickly dies.
With just a few hours of air left, the crew receives a transmission from a ship that has picked up their distress signal, but without knowing their exact location due to the crash, it is a race against time before the ship arrives. Will the remaining crew survive long enough to be found?
As good as Black Sea?
With all due respect to Pressure, it’s not in the same league as Black Sea. Whilst not an awful film, it lacks a lot of what I enjoyed about Black Sea, such as the development of the relationships between the characters, their development as characters and the impressive display of Ben Mendelsohn.
Let’s start with the very first part of the film, even before the characters are introduced, the opening credits. Now, normally I don’t talk about the opening credits at all, I have briefly mentioned it in one other review in passing, but for me I found myself getting pissed off for the first 70 or so seconds as it spends 40 seconds giving you all of the logos of the numerous studios involved, only to then show their names again, one by one, in plain text straight and on a plain background. So before they show anything other than a logo and a blank screen, we have been told about each studio twice.
Isn’t it amazing that studios seem to think we give a crap about who produced them. I don’t watch a film based on the studio, I watch it based on plot, who is in it, etc, and I couldn’t honestly give two shits about the film studios that brought it. I own close on 3,000 DVDs and I’d be hard pushed to tell you who the studio was for more than 1% of them, and even then I’d be hard pushed to get to just that.
Anyway, onto the film itself. Well the film works well in the thriller sense as you’re in a very claustrophobic environment. Once the crew are in the sea and their ship sinks, there is literally nowhere for them to go as they’re several hundred metres under water and the cords that allow them to breathe whilst repairing the pipes only stretch so far. Even if they were closer to the surface, they can’t just swim up to the surface as the pressure would almost certainly kill them, a point which is made very clear at the beginning of the film.
In an environment where the characters can’t go anywhere, either by choice or forced, it brings along the feeling that they are truly trapped, and the visuals of the characters swimming around in pitch black shows just that. The film does look fantastic and the lighting used is extra-ordinary. They have made it look realistic and that is very important for films like this.
Unfortunately the characters just aren’t that interesting and counteract the look. With such a small cast you really need engaging characters to make the film enjoyable, and yet none of the characters are memorable or well developed. Only one of them changes because of the experiences and that is probably because he is the cause of the death of one of the other three and arguably another. He show signs of going from a cocky know-it-all, to someone full of remorse, but other than that each character ends pretty much as they started.
Danny Huston plays the pessimistic Engel well, but his character is on screen more than the others and doesn’t really change at all throughout the entire run time of the film. I’ve obviously just given it away that his character is in the film until pretty much the end, but again he starts pretty much how he starts.
However, despite the lack of development of the characters, that’s not my main problem with them. You are given no reason to want any of them to survive. I was sat there and not once did I give a crap if any of them lived or died and that’s a terrible thing. Where’s the tension if you aren’t invested in the characters and don’t care about their fates?
Whilst not an awful film and it sets it self up for being tense with the claustrophobic feeling, it then ruins it with a set of characters that underdeveloped and largely unlikable. Any film is doomed when you don’t really care about the characters and their fate.
The film is visually fantastic and that is the biggest praise I can give it, but there are far, far better films set in underwater environments that might not look as good, but work much better because of the time invested in the characters.
I can only really recommend this film if you are on a marathon is films set underwater.