Stars: Jonathan Bennett, Talulah Riley, Rosa Salazar, Samuel Hunt, Cody Christian, Giles Matthey, Denzel Whitaker, Willa Ford, Mario Van Peebles, Tim Daly | Written by Scott Milam | Directed by Steven C. Miller
Horror movies that trap a character or group of characters in one confined location can be quite effective in the right hands, and two of the best recent examples are Adam Green’s Frozen and Rodrigo Cortes’ Buried. It’s quite impressive to see what a filmmaker can do with such a limited set of resources, and both Green and Cortes pulled incredible amounts of suspense out of premises that seemed destined to sink. As for Steven C. Miller’s attempt to do the same, well, it just kind of sinks.
Written by Scott Milam and directed by Miller (Silent Night), Submerged centres on a group of young characters who are quite literally trapped in a limousine at the bottom of a canal. It’s initially unclear how they found themselves in the horrifying predicament, but one thing’s for certain: with breathable air running out and water coming in, they won’t survive long down there. Paranoia rises and tensions flare as they try to figure out a way to escape and return to dry land.
Like Frozen and Buried before it, Submerged no doubt has an interesting premise, one that immediately sets it apart from the glut of horror films that hit home video each and every week. And the film wastes absolutely no time getting that limo into the canal, kicking off with an opening credits sequence that shows the vehicle plunging deep into it and filling with water – thanks to generous amounts of CGI, we get to literally watch the car flood from the inside, which makes for a pretty cool visual and a solid start.
Unfortunately, it quickly becomes clear that Milam and Miller weren’t all that interested in making the underwater thriller that Submerged promises to be – either that or they just didn’t know how to.
Rather than focusing on the suspense and terror inherent to the very idea of a group of people trapped inside of a vehicular prison on the bottom of a canal, Milam’s script instead takes us out of that confined space over and over again, effectively sabotaging the film by sucking all tension out of the proceedings at almost every turn. The fractured storytelling continually takes us back in time to shed some light onto why the limo ended up where it did, which is actually the least interesting aspect of the entire ordeal.
And it’s a damn shame, because Submerged is unquestionably at its best when we’re trapped inside the limo with the characters. Mind you, the acting is shoddy and the writing simply not good enough to squeeze maximum suspense out of the situation, but there are a couple of moments that suggest a better movie lying somewhere underneath the surface of Miller’s latest. At one point, one of the ill-fated characters is trapped in the limo’s trunk as water is quickly rushing in, and in that moment you feel the horror that you should feel in a movie of this sort. But guess what happens just when you start to become invested in whether the kid lives or dies? Yea, Miller totally cuts away to a dull flashback.
The strangest thing about Submerged is just how unfocused the whole thing is, as it seems to be unsure whether it wants to be an underwater suspense thriller or an action film. Oddly enough, it’s eventually revealed that main character Matt (Jonathan Bennett) is somewhat of a low-budget John Wick, and particularly in the final act, the confined movie about a limousine at the bottom of a canal becomes a film full of all the gunshots and tired clichés you’d expect from an action flick you’d find at the bottom of a bargain bin. I’m all for movies expanding beyond their premises and daring to be different, but absolutely nothing about this one gels, making for an altogether clunky and confused experience.
By the time the title pops back up on the screen, just before the end credits, the movie is so far away from the film it was at the start that calling it Submerged no longer even seems fitting. As it turns out, this little horror film was actually an action movie in disguise, and a pretty poor one at that.