Don’t Watch These 10 Movies If You’re Scared Of The Ocean
Two weeks ago, I explored the concept of nyctophobia—the fear of the dark—and highlighted 10 of the scariest movies that exploit it. Want to know what’s even scarier than the dark, though? The ocean. What’s down there? Why is it so deep and dark? If you’re James Cameron, you probably know the answer to that. For the rest of us, we must live uncomfortably knowing that, according to the National Ocean Service, less than 10% of the global ocean has been mapped with sonar technology. The National Ocean Service goes on to estimate that more than 80% of the world’s oceans are “unmapped, unobserved, unexplored.” It’s chilling stuff, though it would also make a sensational horror tagline. Unmapped, unobserved, unexplored… until now. My thalassophobia can’t handle it.
Par for the course, the phobia monsters on Tik Tok have done to thalassophobia—the fear of the ocean—what they’ve done to nyctophobia. Behavioral scientists largely posit thalassophobia is an engendered from a variety of sources, including near-drowning experiences, shark attacks (a perennial in popular culture), or even simply hearing scary stories about the ocean. Here are some references:
No! What’s down there? I don’t want to know. If you do want to know, however, here are 10 movies that explore the awful, scary things hiding in our oceans.
47 Meters Down: Uncaged
While I was tempted to include Johannes Roberts’ first 47 Meters Down, a sensational indie with an outrageous release (for reference, the movie was briefly available on DVD over a year before its $62 million box office haul), I opted instead for its sequel on account of one thing—albino sharks. While 47 Meters Down: Uncaged isn’t quite as open-ocean terrifying as the first, it does have monstrous albino sharks swimming the depths like an underwater Michael Myers. They’re the best thing about the movie, and Roberts stages them with ferocious intensity.
Epic Pictures’ release Sea Fever was one of 2020’s most terrifying surprises. Hermione Corfield’s Siobhán studies deep-sea fauna. She boards a fishing vessel for some time at sea to complete her research, though midway through the trip, the boat catches on something. An open sea The Thing, Siobhán and the crew must contend with illness, a possible infection, and the looming threat of something much bigger right below their trawler. Count me out, mate.
While the first season of The Terror, adapted from Dan Simmons’ 2007 novel of the same name, is obviously not a movie, it triggers thalassophobia better than most. The HMS Erebus and HMS Terror set out to confirm the existence of the Northwest Passage, though deep into uncharted territory, their ships become trapped in the ice. Worse still, something is out there in the frozen landscape, stalking the crew. A period-accurate diving venture is among the scariest things I’ve ever seen, and The Terror never hides its contention that dangerous things live in uncharted waters.
The contemporary OG of thalassophobic cinema, Chris Kentis’ loose adaptation of a true story follows a couple left behind on a scuba diving trip. This still happens, by the way. Left behind in open water, hence the title, the pair endeavor to survive against the elements, exhaustion, dehydration, and, yes, sharks. Sharks don’t figure as centrally as marketing material suggested, but the use of live sharks and the sheer depth of the open ocean do enough to ensure no one will be taking diving trips for a long, long time.
Yes, the Kristen Stewart January horror release was good. In fact, it’s pretty great. While it bombed financially, William Eubank’s Underwater is Lovecraftian underwater horror at its finest. And, yes, it actually features Cthulhu. Stewart is part of a deep-sea drilling crew who must escape after they encounter terrifying creatures in the depths. Claustrophobic, terrifying, and sensationally staged, Underwater is one of the best aquatic horror movies of the decade.
The Deep House
Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s The Deep House is thalassophobia-adjacent. While it’s not open ocean, it’s as close as it gets. A pair of YouTube thrill seekers desire to dive to an abandoned house at the bottom of an artificial lake. The underwater house is perfectly preserved, and while The Deep House does at times feel too close to “The Conjuring, but in a lake,” the directorial duo’s sensational camerawork elevates the entire affair. Principally filmed underwater, it’s unlike anything that’s come before. Seek this house out.
If Open Water didn’t have enough sharks for you, Andrew Traucki’s got the antidote. A modern maestro of creature features, Traucki’s The Reef follows a group of friends whose boat capsizes in the middle of the ocean. Torn between staying on the sinking vessel or swimming for land, several choose the latter, treading out into open sea. Remarkably tense, The Reef is a stalker shark film to the nth degree. Those with thalassophobia need not apply. By the third time a character dips their head underwater to find the shark stalking them, you’ll be too paralyzed with fear to notice.
Lovecraft adaptations aren’t good for several reasons. With horror grounded in the suggestive, it’s hard to make that material work cinematically. Often, filmmakers must either choose from his more explicit works or opt for considerable source material deviations. Stuart Gordon, the premier Lovecraft filmmaker, tried his hand at Dagon in 2001. It’s a campy cult mess, with plenty of fish people, chompy mermaids, and monstrous underwater deities. It’s a lot of fun, but the thalassophobia breaks through. What if there really are monstrous Gods living underwater?
James Cameron loves the ocean. He probably knows more about the ocean than anyone alive. The Abyss isn’t quite the horror show it could have been, but it’s remarkably chilling (and thrilling) in its own right. A deep-sea rescue team encounters alien life in the deepest part of the Earth’s ocean. They must contend with uninhabitable conditions as they endeavor to reach the surface. For added fun, check out the extended edition. It’s a hoot.
Horror cinema needs more deep-sea monster movies. Sure, Deep Rising is camp, but it’s classic camp. And it has Famke Janssen. What more could be said? Mercenaries and the 1% cross paths as a giant underwater creature attacks a luxury cruise liner. The CG baddy has dozens and dozens of tentacles eagerly awaiting the chance to grab some poor sap and toss them straight into its gullet. Is it scary? Not really. But it still plants the nascent seed that something big might well be living deep in the depths, just waiting for a ship full of passengers to munch on.
What do you think? Have you seen any of these thalassophobia-inducing frights? Let me know over on Twitter @Chadiscollins. And remember—stay out of the ocean.
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