Submerged Dir. Steven C. Miller

[IFC Films; 2015]

Styles: thriller
Others: Buried, Suicide Kings

A great concept can really drive a movie. “Why hasn’t this been done before?” Your mind races with the possibilities that could unfurl. But a conceit can only go so far: it remains in the hands of the filmmaker to deliver a film worthy of its premise. When I first heard the pitch for Submerged, a bunch of people stuck in a car underwater, I thought it was actually a novel idea that could go in a lot of different directions depending on the personalities of the characters. I generally like single location movies that build a claustrophobic sense of dread, especially with the addition of a ticking clock. For the most part, director Steven C. Miller does well with this melting pot of chaos adrift on the bottom of a canal. Unfortunately, too much cutting away from the action for flashback filler and a cartoonishly villainous late movie reveal end up undercutting a lot of what does work in Submerged.

Matt (Jonathan Bennett) is a former Army Ranger and full time driver/bodyguard for Jessie (Talulah Riley), the rich heiress of a corporate magnate (Tim Daly) who has recently had to downsize his company. One night Matt is driving Jessie and her friends in a new, tricked-out limo when they are run off the road and find themselves submerged in a canal with time, oxygen, and options running out. How are they going to escape this steel enforced watery tomb? Was someone in the limo responsible for the attempted kidnapping that led to car’s careening off the road? And how long can the passengers go before turning on each other in the cramped space?

Despite its interesting concept and potential for great interpersonal drama, Submerged ends up feeling like a shrug of a movie. While the direction is good and the acting is fine (save for that late turn in the movie that is so over the top), the film’s script doesn’t get out of its own way. The film is broken up by flashbacks through the life of Matt and his dealings with Jessie’s family and a doomed brother subplot that really adds up to nothing, except to set up a handful of elements that could otherwise be easily explained away with a few lines of dialogue. If the film had either made the flashbacks more interesting or done away with them completely, it would be a tighter work that would truly immerse audiences in the chaotic events of the car.

As it stands, though, its best moments are those moments when the limo’s passengers are trying to figure a way out, or start turning on each other as they are wont to do in such a pressurized (no pun intended) situation. Here writer Scott Milam and director Miller do their best work at ratcheting up the tension and the panic, as there appears to be little hope in sight and old resentments begin to find their way to the surface. The dire situation is palpable, and the actors all do a good job of moving from hopelessness, to infighting, to planning various routes for escape. But again, all of this is undercut by the needless flashbacks that set up a third act reveal that is neither shocking nor interesting.

It’s difficult to write about middle of the road films. If a film is great, you want to proselytize for it. If a film is hot garbage, it’s also easy to write out vitriol Submerged fits into neither category and is pretty much the definition of a “meh” film: one with a strong concept and performances that never realizes when to get out of its own way. It’s not as clever or as deep as it thinks it is, and that lack of innovation sinks what could otherwise be a taut thriller.

Most Read