Before his success with The Mummy, the Stephen Sommers written and directed Deep Rising hit screens in an unashamed tribute to cheesy monster movies that should be terrible, but ends up being enjoyable because it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The film follows ship captain John Finnegan (Treat Williams), who has been hired by a group of shifty mercenaries headed up by the ever sinister Hanover (Wes Studi) to transport them to the state of the art cruise-liner Argonautica. The mercenaries are working for the ship owner Simon Canton (Anthony Heald) and plan to rob the ship and sink it for the insurance money.
Unfortunately, before they are able to arrive at the Argonautica, something rises up from the deep of the ocean and attacks the ship. By the time the bad guys turn up, none but a small group of survivors are left alive, including the international jewel thief Trillian St. James (Famke Janssen).
Whilst looking for a way off the Argonautica and for the supplies needed to repair their ship, the group discovers a deadly sea creature that is hunting down the humans and devouring them.
Deep Rising is an unusual film in the sense that there are no heroes for you to root for. Yes, Finnegan is fairly heroic and the nicest of a group of nasty people, but every survivor on the Argonautica is a villain. There’s a gang of killers, a corrupt businessman, and a thief. Despite this, you find yourself wanting certain members of the group to survive, whilst you actively hope for others to get eaten. Though how you feel about certain characters will shift from time to time.
The real star of the film, however, isn’t any of the human characters, but the giant sea monster come to kill them all. Described by Canton as probably being an extremely mutated version of an Ottoia, a type of prehistoric sea worm, the monster is like an octopus from hell. With a central body that looks like a giant demonic baby, it has dozens of tentacles coming off it that each have their own vicious mouths on the ends, capable of swallowing people whole, where they are then dissolved whilst still alive.
The monster is a unique design, one that I’ve not really seen repeated in other films, and the setting makes prime use of it. The tentacles spread throughout the ship, working their way through pipes, under floors, and through portholes. Due to the way the ship is built there’s not a single place that’s safe from them suddenly appearing, and this means that the film doesn’t have a chance to take a break. The pace is fast as the characters run for their lives; which is a good thing really, because it stops you from having a chance to think about how cheesy the film actually is.
Deep Rising clearly takes inspiration from disaster films and B-monster movies, and wears these proudly. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and this makes the whole experience better. The story is too ridiculous to be anything other than tongue in cheek, and the film would definitely have suffered if it had tried to be anything else. It’s easy to see the style that would go on to become recognisable in Sommers later works such as The Mummy films, and Van Helsing developing here.
A fun little film for fans of the monster genre, with a unique design and some fun performances, but don’t come into it expecting a cinematic great or you might be a little disappointed.