Submerged Review

by Steve Pulaski

Submerged almost winds up succeeding as a shoddy little thriller in spite of its shortcomings, which, for its premise and genre, were almost too easy to fall victim to from the get-go. The film revolves around Matt (Jonathan Bennett), a young but stressed man who is trying to take care of his younger brother after the sudden death of their father. His life is only further turned upside down when he finds his brother dead on the floor of his bedroom after a suicide attempt. His reality becomes all too bleak at that moment, as he struggles for some semblance of order.

Thankfully, his friends (Denzel Whitaker, Talulah Riley, Rosa Salazar, and Cody Christian) have always been close by his side. The gang agree to take a beautiful, highly customized limousine, complete with a Kevlar body, Plexiglas windows, and an indestructible frame thanks to a close friend of Matt’s (Mario Van Peebles), to a club one late Saturday night. When the gang leaves the club early, they are subsequently targeted by goons who shoot them off the road into a water canal that submerges their limousine several feet into the water, leaving them trapped and helpless. The roots of this problem are much greater than any of them, and now that they are all trapped amongst one another, they have time to sort out the politics of this potentially fatal incident.

Directed by
Steven C. Miller
Rosa Salazar, Tim Daly, Talulah Riley
Release Date
27 November 2015
Steve’s Grade: C-

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Submerged, which arrives in selected theaters and video-on-demand, reminds me a lot of Pressure, another low-key thriller that focused on characters confined in a small space, that came out earlier this year. Pressure involved three souls trapped in a submarine and, despite the subject matter, was a very peaceful film in that there wasn’t a lot of arguing between the characters, surprisingly enough, and the ever-presence of water surrounding the characters effectively captured a tranquil vibe. Submerged, on the contrary, manages to be a film with a simple plot made unnecessarily non-linear by way of its editing, which feels the need to continue to interject imminent scenes that occur in the future with the present. This is not a story that needs this kind of elaborate crosscutting, especially when characters are this basic and the plot is this easy to follow. The result is a film that feels like it’s constantly spoiling itself until the present part of the narrative captures up with the future part.

When that happens, we get a much more linear and interesting film, largely because we don’t see director Steven C. Miller (director of the loose remake of Silent Night, Deadly Night in 2012, Silent Night) and writer Scott Milam juggling two different time periods of the same narrative. During the final thirty minutes of Submerged, when it finally calms down and focuses solely on the present, we see the film for what it really is; an uncommonly cynical look at politics, and ultimately, the fate of these young adults, who, despite not being the most likable people in cinema, certainly are not the worst.

This sort of unforgiving display of calamity for these young people is surely one of the more interesting parts of Submerged; the problem is, in order to get to that part of the film and, in turn, appreciate it, you must sit through a wealth of choppily edited scenes and drearily filmed scenes that have Miller doing the best he can to film in a tight, dimly lit, water-logged location, but to little avail.

These pitfalls are common for a film like Submerged, a film that would be so great if it wasn’t so handicapped by its typical shortcomings. A film like this that simply followed a chronological narrative and focused on character development and relations, rather than half-baking them into the screenplay during a momentary bout of panic, would’ve been one to base itself around suspense and looming tension. As it stands, Submerged provides too little too late in the scheme of delivering what its concept promises.