For die-hards, no horror movie can be too scary. But for you, a wimp, the wrong one may leave you miserable. Perhaps you’ve even lost whole nights of sleep in a struggle to get certain images or ideas out of your head, leaving you to trudge into work or school the next morning unable to function properly.
Never fear, scaredies, because Slate’s Scaredy Scale is here to help. We’ve put together a highly scientific and mostly spoiler-free system for rating new horror movies, comparing them to classics along a 10-point scale. And because not everyone is scared by the same things—some viewers can’t stand jump scares, while others are haunted by more psychological terrors or simply can’t stomach arterial spurts—it breaks down each movie’s scares across three criteria: suspense, spookiness, and gore. This time: Underwater, a new thriller with Kristen Stewart as one of several wise-cracking inhabitants of a deep-sea oil rig who try to escape the submerged fortress after it’s violently attacked by … something.
Underwater opens with an unseen force battering the oil rig as Stewart, complete with a butch-chic bleach-blond haircut and sports bra, races toward water-sealing doors alongside several others. From there, survivors slink through claustrophobic, water-filled, and body-strewn spaces and into high-tech wetsuits that, one character helpfully explains, may depressurize and cause their inhabitants to implode alive. (This proceeds to happen.) When the characters decide they’ll need to walk the ocean floor, there are long periods of hazy first-person shots through their helmets, as we wait to see what goes bump in the night. Something does. Several jump scares ensue.
This is all tense enough—the movie plods along with competence and occasional flair—but you’ll be gasping for air much less than anyone on screen.
The prospect of people facing the gruesome realities of deep-sea ocean pressure, broken oxygen tanks, and becoming dinner for unknown species is not always pleasant, and the movie concocts some surreal and potentially haunting images. But if you are a veteran of similar creature features—and Underwater is extremely derivative—none of this is particularly likely to stick with you.
The ravages of those depressurized deep-sea divers and unknown species are similarly unpleasant, and though nothing in Underwater is terribly graphic, the movie does a fine job narrating all the terrible things that are going down when we see a sudden cloud of blood. Ah, you think, guess he imploded too. For me, the power of suggestion makes this more horrifying than if I’d actually seen it, but the movie doesn’t show anything more grisly than you’d expect from its PG-13 rating.
Underwater uses its creature-feature pretext to make a literal monster out of the horrors we—and, in this case, oil companies—are unleashing on the Earth. Behind the creepy crawlies and viscera, that’s the real boogeyman, you see? Despite a few stylish sequences and some fun effects, the results are very middling, which is good news for Scaredy Nation—this one ain’t too bad. For my money, the real horror is wasting the opportunity to turn Stewart into a full-on deep-sea Ellen Ripley for the climate panic era. Maybe next time.