Submerged is a nifty little kitchen-sink thriller that crawls deep under your skin, much like a Pandora’s Box of phobias ripe for the prodding. Not only do a group of teens find themselves trapped inside a sealed limousine, but said vehicle is resting silently on the bottom of a deep canal. Oh, and hitmen wait above the water for their targets to eventually surface, because who doesn’t dig some batshit overkill? Scott Milam is a proper bastard for capturing all my recurring nightmares in one suffocating script, and Steven C. Miller earns the same pale-faced praise for bringing them to life in this air-tight terror. Yes – armed divers and all.
Everything begins underwater, but it’s not long before flashbacks offer background information and better times. Matt (Jonathan Bennett), who comes-to behind the limo’s wheel, reveals himself to be an ex-solider who serves as bodyguard for a wealthy businessman’s family. His boss’s daughter, Jessie (Talulah Riley), sits to his right, while her friends are trapped in the more spacious back.
The flashbacks divulge that Jessie’s father is a very unpopular man, due to continued layoffs he takes the blame for. With locals losing their jobs left and right, threats become a daily occurrence – putting Jessie at risk. Matt does his best to protect the family, but after a night of clubbing ends abruptly, attackers run Jessie’s limo right off the road. It’s Matt’s job to ponder an escape route to dry land, while dealing with an injured leg and four petrified teenagers who are frustratingly unpredictable. You know, all in a bodyguard’s duty.
As an artist, Miller is working with numerous layers throughout Submerged. We aren’t solely trapped inside a leaking limousine, but we’re only permitted gasps of air long enough to convey relevant plot information – then it’s right back underwater. This isn’t a Buried-esque single-scene thriller that finds itself helplessly contained, yet Miller wrings every ounce of rising tension out of Scott Milam’s waterlogged thriller. You’d think that the threat of washing out to sea in a bulletproof, inescapable vehicle would present enough of a threat, but Tom’s (Giles Matthey) breakdown and the appearance of scuba-diving-assassins constantly up a dangerous game that intensifies with each new twist. The proverbial noose around our neck tightens as Miller’s guidance seeks out every nasty secret hidden in such a small space, choking viewers with pure white-knuckle tension.
I rather like Mean Girls alumn Jonathan Bennett’s role as a tactical bodyguard, especially during a badass moment while beating down some nightclub vagrants amidst flashing lasers and thumping bass. For a minute, Bennett passes for Dan Stevens in The Guest, kicking ass to neon-lit rave lights that bounce with each dub-stepping blast. The other characters are your typical overly-terrified teens – with good reason – except for Caleb Hunt, who gets his own eccentric explosion that comes with yet another devious twist. The likes of Rosa Salazar and Talulah Riley get the job done with ample bouts of fear, but Bennet and Hunt stand out for going the extra mile.
The way Miller takes us in and out of the limo beckons a sense of crushing isolation that all the characters must face. As his camera pans through the solid glass window, sound doesn’t kick in until we pass the barrier between Matt and a pressurized death. Outside of the stretch-coffin, you can hear nothing. Just the faint bubbling of sea-faring critters, and the rushing of waves as the tide pushes and pulls. Then, once we break the plane of safety, chaos ensues and we’re subjected to the paranoid rantings of people who see no possible salvation. Water drowns, guns shoot, harpoons stab, and yet even with all those methods of destruction present, Submerged reveals that we’re still our own worst enemies once survival seems bleak at best.
Steven C. Miller’s latest tightens a constricting noose through atmospheric chills, slowly and efficiently. There’s a command of not-so-subtle tension that becomes invigorated by so many outside factors, yet the zany concoction of thrills somehow never becomes overly cartoonish. Submerged is no mere trapped-in-a-box experience, nor is it a societal statement about big business – nothing overly goofy or exposition-y. It’s tight, tense, and downright torturous, just like a properly paced thrill-ride should be. Make sure you’ve got some anti-anxiety meds for this one, because you’re damn well going to need them…
Submerged is a whole mess of tension primed to leave viewers in an anxiety-induced pile of helplessness, which means it does its job pretty damn well.