Trick or Treat 2021: Two Cents Surfs on DEEP RISING (1998)

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

Stephen Sommers occupies an odd spot in the modern cinematic conversation.

While his The Mummy and its sequel The Mummy Returns were initially greeted with shrugs and eyerolls by the critical establishment, the generation that grew up with Rick and Evie O’Connell battling Imhotep have canonized those films right alongside the classics that inspired them. Not for nothing is a massive percentage of the Internet incredibly invested in Brendan Fraser’s comeback.

Even later underperformers from Sommers, like Van Helsing and G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra, continue to draw passionate support from certain audiences, especially as modern blockbusters continue to cohere to a shared template, and as ‘vulgar auteur’ remains a buzzword for some. Sommers may have set the terms for CG-overloaded action/adventure movies, but his more-is-more, everything-cranked-to-eleven-all-the-time-always aesthetic stands distinct from anything else.

His first foray into the field after a few mid-budget family films (which included the live action The Jungle Book) was a full-blown R-rated monster picture by the name of Deep Rising. A flop on release, Deep Rising nonetheless quickly developed an ardent cult following and remains a beloved creature feature from the otherwise pretty dire ‘90s.

Deep Rising stars Treat Williams as Finnegan, a lovable rogue in the mode of all the other lovable rogues you love. Finnegan and his small boat and crew are hired to deliver a group led by the mysterious Hanover (the great Wes Studi) to a similarly mysterious destination. Uh oh Spaghetti-Os, it soon turns out that Hanover and his team are hired mercenaries intending to rob a massive new cruise ship in an isolated spot in the middle of the ocean.

Double uh oh: As soon as they get on board, the gang discovers the cruise ship has been decimated, almost completely abandoned save for the gallons upon gallons of blood coating the interior. Yup, turns out some creepy crawlies of an aquatic nature got on board the ship, and now the thieves need to abandon their hopes for a payday if they have any hopes to survive.

Costarring Famke Janssen (fresh off Goldeneye, right before X-Men) as another thief trapped aboard the ship, Deep Rising boasts creature designs by Rob Bottin (the GENIUS responsible for The Thing) and a level of gory carnage that is shocking for a big expensive Hollywood movie.

Audiences didn’t show up for it originally, but Deep Rising continues to occupy a special place in the hearts of its dedicated fanbase, and so it seemed like the perfect film to close out this year’s spooky season.

Did it live up to that hype? Or is this a waterlogged relic that oughta be flushed? Read on, and find out!

Our Guests

Brendan Agnew (The Norman Nerd):

Deep Rising endears itself to me in many ways — primarily, by punching well above its weight while landing a lot more hits than it has any right to. This is a movie that woulda been a full letter grade better if it had come out either a few years earlier (see Tippett, Phil) or a few years later (Rob Bottin’s monster designs are dope as hell, but the required CGI effects simply were not There Yet), but you gotta admire a movie that gets over the finish line partly by enthusiasm.

The other thing I love about this film is how clear its goals are and how solid its base construction is. After a run of “Alien, but in the water” creature features surrounding Cameron’s The Abyss, Stephen Sommers clearly decided “ok, but what if Aliens plus water?” and ably pens a grisly sci-fi horror cum disaster movie that never quite manages to grab the brass ring, but also never falls on is face. It’s a breezy 100-odd minutes with a fun monster, awesome kills, some genuinely clever lines in the perfect monster matinee mold (“What *are* those things?” “Unfriendly.”), and a surprisingly bangin’ Jerry Goldsmith score.

If the effects are ropey or the cinematography a little too “‘90s Bright” or a couple of the performances a little too shouty (ok, more than a couple), it’s never enough to sink the proceedings — especially not in the face of Sommers’ palpable glee at the hell and the script’s solid nuts-and-bolts functionality.

Also, Djimon Honsou is clearly having more fun in a single scene where he’s trynna make his comrade barf than he was in his last 3 mega-budget superhero movie appearances. So, you got that going for you, too!

Verdict: TREAT (@BLCAgnew)

The Team

Brendan Foley:

While The Mummy remains the best fusion of the various strengths of Stephen Sommers, and does the best job of mitigating his weakest instincts, Deep Rising is definitely another for the ‘hit’ column for this very hit or miss director.

Some of those weaknesses are still present, of course. He can’t help but undercut moments of tension with Saturday cartoon-level attempts at pithy banter, he clearly thinks Kevin J. O’Connor screaming all his lines is hilarious (it’s not) and, of course, he has absolutely zero self control when it comes to visual effects and just piles on unconvincing mayhem until you might as well be watching that aforementioned Saturday morning cartoon.

But Deep Rising is still a charming monster mash, and I’m very happy to have finally watched it. Sommers hits the ground running at 80 MPH and manages to maintain that momentum for pretty much the entire runtime. There is a palpable sense of glee as the film rockets along to the next big kill, the next wild chase, the next monster attack, and Sommers never seems to run out of either ideas or enthusiasm.

It helps that this is allowed to be R-rated, with the gruesome consequences of all this lunacy being the necessary counterbalance to the daffy, lightweight energy. At its best, Deep Rising approaches the levels of merrily repulsive excess of B-movie classics like Dead Alive or the Evil Deads, and in those moments you can feel Sommers behind the camera having the absolute time of his life, and it’s incredibly infectious.

Verdict: TREAT (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw:

Deep Rising is so much fun. It’s a simple formula, but one that works. Not to be reductive or shallow, but if you make a big-budget movie with a huge monster, horror on a boat, quippy cool dudes, giant explosions, and one of the most gorgeous leading ladies of all time — yeah, I’ll be there watching it.

This cast is nuts. So many wonderful character actors, many of them on the cusp of becoming very recognizable fan favorites. Treat Williams and Famke Janssen are joined by an ensemble featuring Jason Flemyng, Djimon Hounsou, Cliff Curtis, Clifton Powell, Anthony Heald, and of course the great Wes Studi. I find Kevin J. O’Conner’s wimpy performances a little grating, but this being a Sommers joint, it makes sense that he’s here.

The CGI is a little sketchy to be sure, exhibiting that characteristic sheen of glossy falseness, but more than two decades later, the datedness is now working in its favor because we can kind of shrug it off as a product of its time rather than feel the need to judge it. Plus the practical monster and gore effects, physical sets, and action setups are really well done.

Deep Rising didn’t make a deep impact, but it’s still rising. Sommers took the same grisly horror-action-comedy ingredients and channeled them into the megahit The Mummy, and if you love that film (and who doesn’t?) you should absolutely see this one. I love this movie and believe it will only become more beloved with time as people discover and rediscover an overlooked gem.

Verdict: Treat (@VforVashaw)

Trick: 0
Treat: 3

Unanimous Verdict: TREAT!

Further Reading:

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