Water is vital to life all over this planet. It’s essential to the survival of mankind, it has great beauty in oceans and rivers, and it shows great force with natural disasters. It’s a part of each and every one of our lives - and it’s something that becomes a well-traversed metaphor in ‘Submergence’. However, despite two big-name stars, the film constantly struggles against the current.
After a chance meeting between Danielle ‘Danny’ Flinders (Alicia Vikander, ‘Tomb Raider’, ‘Tulip Fever’, ‘The Light Between Oceans’) and James (James McAvoy, ‘Atomic Blonde’, ‘Split’) at a rural hotel, the pair spend all of their time together, developing a close bond. When James has to leave for work, the two keep in touch - that is, until James’ work gets in the way; as a hydraulic engineer working in Somalia, he’s captured by jihadist terrorists and accused of being a British spy. Unable to contact him, Danny spends her time worrying about James and her own work - she’s a biomathematician, readying to embark on her first deep sea dive. Both physically confined by their situations, they spend time recalling the love they had.
One of the best ways to describe this unconventional little film is a romance, but oddly Danny and James only share screen time for the first quarter of the film, if we’re lucky. They share an intellectual and a physical bond - Vikander and McAvoy both do a convincing job of portraying their close connection, choosing to make their relationship more intimate than passionate.
However, it’s the remainder of the film that’s a bit of a quandary. Splitting its time between current-day Danny and James’ lives, there don’t seem to be enough plot points in order to justify how long it is. James’ capture and torture is strangely backtracked upon as his captors suddenly begin treating him humanely, and Danny stressing over James not returning her calls inevitably makes her mentally unfit to confine herself some 3,500 metres below the surface (and a little creepily macabre when she finally does). Besides this, it’s hard to rationalise the time spent on their situations, drawing the film out to over 110 minutes.
Despite two big-name stars, the film constantly struggles against the current.
What does colour in these moments are the flashbacks to their time together, and one thing writer Erin Dignam and director Wim Wenders impressively manage is keeping the timeline of the story clear, despite the constant moving between past and present. There’s some nice underwater cinematography, as well as some attractive shots of European coastlines - all in all, it’s been lensed pleasantly but fairly unremarkably.
As a piece of cinema, unremarkable is a perfect description of ‘Submergence’ - it’s all fine, with no major flaws, but also no standout elements. The stars don’t especially shine on screen, and the story drags on too long for the film to be either especially poignant or enjoyable. Just like a drop of rain hitting a pond, its impact is minor, dissipating until it eventually leaves no impression at all.