Submerged Has Trouble Staying Afloat

IFC Midnight

IFC Midnight

If you see one movie this year about insufferable pricks trapped inside of a limousine that’s stuck underwater on the bottom of a river then that’s unfortunate because the movie is probably Submerged.

Matt (Jonathan Bennett) awakes behind the wheel of a limo to discover his leg is injured and the five “teens” in his charge in varying degrees of panic and trouble. Unconscious beside him is Jessie (Talulah Riley), daughter of his employer (Tim Daly), and friend to the four young people who were celebrating in the back. Flashbacks unfold to reveal what led to their current predicament – bad guys are trying to abduct Jessie, presumably for ransom as her father is a very wealthy man.

In addition to a healthy bank account, Mr. Searles is also burdened with the scorn and dislike of many as his company has been forced to lay off thousands of employees in recent weeks. We also learn via flashback that Matt’s had his own share of troubles thanks to his younger brother’s involvement with some nasty drug dealers, and those issues are forced to run parallel to his duties as Jessie’s bodyguard and driver. Problems build inside the limo too as panic, malice, and sheer stupidity combine into misguided attempts at escape. If drowning or the lack of oxygen don’t get them, the armed SCUBA divers in the water outside just might.

Director Steven C. Miller has proven himself capable and competent before, but it seems clear that he’s at his best when his cast and script are equally on par. His Silent Night – a reboot of sorts of Silent Night, Deadly Night – is a solid thriller highlighted by a willing B-movie cast and some fun sequences. Submerged, by contrast, is a waterlogged, predictable drag.

The back and forth between the recent past and the group’s present situation lacks anything resembling an increase of tension or momentum as too much time is spent in flashback on flaccid elements. Matt’s brother, Matt’s garage mentor (Mario Van Peebles) – these characters are either unnecessary or too unnecessary, and time with them does nothing to build the suspense back in the trapped limo.

And our time in the car could really use the assistance as the caliber of acting and writing, both wrestling for attention in the cramped space, is nothing more than mediocre and nothing less than annoying. The quartet in back jump immediately into obnoxious idiot mode and never let up – they fight over nothing, they blame each other nonsensically, and they act devoid of even the slightest logic. Matt fares better up front, but he’s so suspiciously quiet at several times that I wonder if some of these scenes were filmed while Bennett was out to lunch.

Bennett does good work making it unfortunate for the film (and the audience) whenever he’s left behind to focus on the car’s other passengers. The four 20-somethings play their teen characters with an overblown energy that continually rings false, but they’re not helped by a script that sees them stuck with clunky dialogue and paper-thin characterizations.

Miller’s efforts are drowned out by his cast and script, but he manages a small gasps for air with a well-staged fight in a club and some clever underwater moments. They’re not nearly enough to save the film or make it worth your time, but they suggest a director far more capable than this film would imply. He’s betrayed by the post-production efforts too as evidenced by an in-film newscast about Searles – he’s referred to correctly by the reporter and his name is even on a sign in the news video, but the onscreen text calls him Sayles.

Save your breath and your time – let Submerged sink to the bottom of your to-watch pile.

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