One of the most effective types of thriller is the “survival thriller,” a subgenre that hinges on a protagonist or a group of protagonists trying to escape from a certain-death situation. They can be as big as The Poseidon Adventure or as small as Buried but they all thrive on the tension of people trying to work their way out of an impossible situation as the odds stack up against them. However, to make this kind of film work, the filmmakers must keep the pressure on their beleaguered heroes to create the tension that sustains the suspense and drama of this kind of premise.
Submerged has a clever high-concept premise for a survival thriller: namely, it’s built around a group of people trapped in a near-impregnable limousine that plunges into the sea after being chased by bad guys. It goes for a tricky plot structure that begins with the protagonists trapped underwater then cuts away to a series of flashbacks to establish how this happened. Jessie (Talulah Riley) is the main target because her wealthy father makes her an ideal ransom target. Bad guys try to get at her during a night on the town with her boyfriend Brandon (Caleb Hunt) and some friends. Driver and bodyguard Matt (Jonathan Bennett) keeps this from happening but they get chased off a bridge and into the water. As the water seeps into the car, they have to fight off panic and suspicion to escape alive.
Unfortunately, the results aren’t as clever as the concept driving it. Submerged is burdened with an unnecessarily complicated script by Scott Milam that makes several key missteps in how it handles its storyline. For starters, beginning the story in media res limits how invested the audience can be in the fates of these characters. Once their natures are revealed via the constant flashbacks, they turn out to be either clichéd or unpleasant. Those constant flashbacks drain the tension from the underwater-trap situation by constantly pulling the viewer out of the film’s most suspenseful setting. It doesn’t help that all the plot material in the above-water flashbacks is utterly humdrum (a generic romantic triangle, tragedy with a troubled sibling, gratuitous drug dealer subplot padding).
To make things worse, the third act abandons the trapped-underwater situation for a finale full of all-too-familiar thriller plot twists and cut-rate action scenes. Director Steven C. Miller has become a mainstay of straight-to-video films in recent years and he brings a surface gloss and decent pacing to the film. However, he doesn’t show much flair in how he assembles the setpieces and has trouble getting good performances out of the younger cast members. Bennett fares the best amongst those younger cast members but the most professional acting comes from Tim Daly as the wealthy dad and Mario Van Peebles as a co-worker of Matt’s.
In short, Submerged feels like what it is: a low-budget attempt to emulate high-concept Hollywood fare. That state of affairs can work but the resulting film needs to be more clever and artful than what you get here.
Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory just released this title on blu-ray. The transfer does a solid job of capturing this digitally photographed film and there are lossless 5.1 and 2.0 stereo mixes. The one extra is a trailer.