It’s just as well for director Ron Scalpello that last year’s Black Sea flopped. Had Kevin MacDonald’s submarine thriller found the audience it arguably deserved, Pressure would likely have sunk without a trace. Instead, it proved a minor hit with festival audiences inclined to regard it as a piece of bravura filmmaking rather than a pale imitation.
Neither is particularly imaginative. Both draw from the same roster of clichéd stock characters, their paint-by-numbers narrative arcs arriving at identical redemptive conclusions. They mostly differ in tone. Black Sea is a dumb quest for Nazi gold in which Jude Law struggles to maintain an absurd Scottish accent, while Pressure is a low budget underdog constrained by a desire to be taken seriously. Although technically competent, the latter is void of both entertainment value and depth.
It tells the story of four oil ship crew who find themselves stranded at the bottom of the ocean after carrying out repairs on a pipeline. Unable to radio for help and with oxygen supplies fast diminishing, the men must act fast to save themselves. The claustrophobic confines of the underwater vessel in which most of the action takes place are suited to feelings of panic and suspense, but writers Alan McKenna and Paul Staheli over-egg things with a po-faced script. Elegiac dream sequences sit uneasily beside cornball dialogue, with character development treated as an irrelevant afterthought. Crucially though, whether anyone’s fault or not, an insurmountable sense of redundancy hangs over the project.