An acceptable creature feature at best and a waterlogged “Alien” at worst, “Underwater” sneaks into town as a true January release: a shelf-sitting production (filming was completed almost three years ago) that 20th Century Fox’s new owner, Disney, is putting outside the store like a loaf of stale bread. It’s there if you want it, and you could chew on worse.
The movie takes place 7 miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, at a deep-water drilling station in the Mariana Trench that goes spectacularly kablooey in the opening scenes. Kristen Stewart, trying out a close-cropped blonde hairstyle that will serve her well a year later in “Seberg,” plays Ripley — I’m sorry, I meant Norah — the rig’s mechanical engineer.
She and five other survivors have to make it across the sea floor to evacuation pods in a deserted station while the drill platform’s nuclear cooling system melts down several miles above them. Radioactive fallout? Not a problem! Nor are other scientific realities like the eight tons per square inch of water pressure that would flatten the cast like tin cans, no matter how sturdy their aqua-suits are.
But we’re not here for Oceanography 101, we’re here to wonder what destroyed the drilling station and might still be lurking in the inky-black waters around the survivors. Directed by William Eubank (“The Signal”) and shot with mostly handheld cameras by Bojan Bazelli, “Underwater” manages to keep its characters in the dark while making sure the audience is roughly oriented. That’s no mean task, especially when toothy humanoid batfish-things start peeking around corners of rocks.
There are bits of many movies floating around down here: “Alien,” “Aliens,” “Gravity,” “The Abyss,” “Prometheus,” the equally generic 2017 space-horror movie “Life.” There are some stray body parts, too, after an unlucky crew member (Mamadou Athie) implodes when his mask springs a leak. For the most part, the scares remain firmly in the PG-13 category, though certain scenes exude an eldritch dread out of an H.P. Lovecraft story.
Stewart has her game face on and is a sturdy lead all the way to a surprisingly lackluster finale. France’s Vincent Cassel makes a dependable captain — for a while anyway — and T.J. Miller (“Silicon Valley”) is the team’s designated loudmouth, a.k.a. the Bill Paxton “Game over, man!” role from “Aliens.” (The film was shot before Miller’s various legal troubles, another sign of its past-due date.) Rounding out the crew are pilot Smith (John Gallagher Jr.) and marine biologist Emily (Jessica Henwick, “Game of Thrones”), the latter a scaredy-cat to offset Stewart’s tough cookie.
True to its genre, “Underwater” requires both actresses to run around in their underwear as much as possible. In fact, what’s possibly the movie’s peak B-movie moment comes when someone tells Emily, “You’ll have to take your pants off or the diving suit won’t fit.”
You’d better believe a male screenwriter wrote that.
Directed by William Eubank. Written by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad. Starring Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, T.J. Miller. At Boston theaters, suburbs. 95 minutes. PG-13 (sci-fi action and terror, brief strong language)