I don’t have a lot of fears but the ones I do have are weird. Like how I never fall asleep with my feet dangling off the bed because I’m convinced that Freddy Kreuger will chop my feet off. He lives under my bed, for some reason. I have this weird fear of deep space and the deep sea, as if I would ever have a reason to be in either of those environments. I guess it’s a weird version of a fear of drowning, since there’s no oxygen in either of those places. So I watched James Cameron’s 1989 movie, The Abyss, and it pushed all of my buttons–fear of drowning and claustrophobia which I don’t really have unless there are other people near me.
Ed Harris plays Virgil “Bud” Brigman, the foreman of an underwater oil rig.
When the U.S.S. Montana, a nuclear submarine crashes near the rig, a team of Navy SEALS is embedded at the rig with the hopes of recovering any survivors. Also, the nukes. Remember the Cold War? Yeah, this was then.
Michael Biehn plays Coffey, the leader of the SEALS who eventually succumbs to high-pressure nervous syndrome. He also has the best moustache I’ve seen in a long time.
If he seems familiar, it’s because he was Hicks in Aliens. Actually, Biehn is having a pretty good couple of years, having recently starred in Planet Terror, The Divide, and directed and starred in The Victim.
Bud’s ex-wife, Dr. Lindsey Brigman (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) is also added to the mix, since she designed the oil rig.
A hurricane leaves them cut off from the outside world, literally ripping the rig from the ship its tethered to and leaving it dangling at the edge of a ridge underwater. Tensions rise as Coffey uses a rover to take one of the nukes from the Montana. Dr. Brigman’s reported sighting of an alien, or a “non-terrestrial intelligence” as they call it, adds to the problems.
I liked this movie best when it was about people in a tense situation, fighting nature and themselves to survive. The movie ends with a huge deus ex machina that honestly adds some 1980’s movie schmaltziness to the movie, which is unfortunate. This is increased exponentially if you watch the director’s cut. That being said, I liked the movie and it definitely has its moments.
I was arguing with some of my friends about whether or not this movie is sci-fi or horror. Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t it be like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup? The lines can be blurred and sometimes end in deliciousness, like the aforementioned candy. The first three-quarters of the movie are like a standard horror movie and utilize some fairly standard horror techniques.
There are some P.O.V shots, like this one.
The shot is constricted by the limits of the diving mask, which helps to put the viewer in the position of the character. The constricted vision along with the sound of the regulator helps create a sense of claustrophobia.
One of the most harrowing moments in the movie is when the SEALS and the oil crew are exploring the crashed submarine. There are corpses in surprising locations and the whole sub feels like a tomb, which I guess it is.
I pretty much lost it when I realized the rig was teetering at the edge of a cliff.
If you’ve seen this movie, then you know how creepy and tense it is when Bud is free-falling to disarm the nuke and he has to breathe that perfluorocarbon jelly because it’s too deep to bring an oxygen tank.
While having horror elements, the movie also has sci-fi elements. There’s the foreign environment.
And, duh, there’s the fact that there are actual underwater aliens.
Honestly, I couldn’t help but be disappointed when I saw the aliens’ true form. They look like day-glo stingrays with baby faces. Mostly, I was cranky with the day-glo and pastel palette and wish that Cameron would find a new look. I hope his next movie is nothing but khakis and olives. It just makes me wonder why you’d create aliens with a very distinct color, like The Abyss, and then repeat it in Avatar. Plus, both movies have the theme of military men on the brink of sanity. Is it bad form when you’re cribbing from your past work? I think so, it’s why I don’t like Tim Burton anymore. Anyway, I created this venn diagram to show how Avatar, Sphere, and The Abyss overlap.
The gender roles in the movie were kind of weird too. Unlike The Thing, another movie about aliens in an isolated location on earth, this movie had two women. There was Dr. Brigman and One Night (Kimberley Scott.)
Dr. Brigman is pretty much universally disliked and generally considered a bossy bitch. One Night is one of the dudes. They’re both competent and tough so what gives? Is it because Dr. Brigman isn’t part of the gang? That may be part of the issue. What irked me, though, is the change in her personality after she drowned. Yes, Dr. Brigman voluntarily drowned because their mini-sub had sprung a leak and there was only one diving suit. She told Bud to let her drown and swim with her back to the rig, hoping that the cold water would give her hypothermia and slow her systems down so they could revive her later. If that’s not courage, then I don’t know what is. Anyway, she’s brash and tough and a know-it-all before the drowning but afterwards, she’s much more feminine and soft and talks about her feelings with Bud. It just feels weird and such a strange turn for her, although I guess drowning would do that to anyone.
Overall, I enjoyed this movie. It’s a little rich in mystical undertones for me but, honestly, so is Avatar. Although, Avatar also has that annoying noble savage trope that, as a person of native descent, I find to be so patronizing. What I thought was really cool was how well the alien design held up. They weren’t scary aliens with double jaws but they looked believable, which I think is a success for a movie that’s twenty-three years old. Yes, The Abyss is twenty-three years old. I was six when it came out. Don’t you feel old now?
- Scarina--the authoress and editrix of this site. I like scary movies and have dedicated my free time to cataloging horror--the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes there are books too.
There's film criticism, literary criticism, and humor here. I can be highbrow but there's lots of pop culture too. And feminism.
I fervently love "Twin Peaks" and wish it were a real place so I could move there. I can't list my favorite scary movies because they change depending on my mood, the season, and how much coffee I've had.
I'm an artist looking for ways to blend creepy with cute. I try to channel my childhood nightmares, my love of horror, and my experiences with sleepy paralysis.
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