Undertow,” a three-character “psychological thriller,” wastes a lot of water trying to simulate a hurricane but drowns in a fuzzy script and amateurish direction that fail to build tension or sympathy for the leads.
Jack Ketchum (Lou Diamond Phillips) is an itinerant construction worker, goin’ where the road takes him. But in Carolina backwoods country, he loses control of his truck during a storm.
Jack wakes up to find that he’s landed in the “Deliverance” outtake bin, with major loony Lyle Yates (Charles Dance) and his young wife, Willie (Mia Sara), having retrieved his unconscious body from the wreck.
Lyle locks Jack up in a spare bedroom of the ramshackle house, after threatening bodily harm (why did they rescue him anyway?), but Jack tries to make friends when he’s finally let out of the tiny room. Meanwhile, the storm is upgraded to a hurricane and the three are trapped in the shack, with Lyle getting more homicidal and Willie getting more intimate with Jack.
With no one to root for, who cares who survives the storm, not to mention Lyle’s gun and crossbow fetish? Kathryn Bigelow and Eric Red’s script doesn’t bother drawing any recognizable characters and, like Bigelow’s own films, substitutes style for substance.
Red’s obsession with slow-motion effects and Film 101 camera setups manages to drag out the silliness even longer, relieving the proceeding of tension, which is usually necessary for a thriller.
Many scenes border on parody — Jack and Willie bond when splitting logs in slow motion in the rain — but they’re all played straight. Red seems to have left the actors alone, since most of the time the trio stands around looking tense for lack of anything to do.
Tech credits — most of the crew were Lithuanian locals, where “Undertow” was lensed — are fine.