Gods of the Deep is a great example of a film exceeding its grasp. The story is solid enough, and performances alongside some smart cinema tricks help suspend a great deal of disbelief. However, a rushed ending undoes all the tight bolts that make the beginning enjoyable. It’s almost a shame the way things don’t pan out because there is a seemingly decent flick here.
The story centers on an undersea expedition. The mysterious Pickman Corporation have discovered a colossal gateway, presumably a portal of some sort. As such they assemble a team to take an experimental submersible into the deepest part of the ocean. Through the ominous entrance, they encounter beings of an incomprehensible nature. Risking sanity as well as their lives, the team struggles to escape the dark depths of this underwater nightmare.
The plot may sound incredibly familiar and, to an extent, Gods of the Deep leans on the expectation audiences will use that familiarity to fill in gaps. There’s the cocky character who immediately snaps. The wealthy benefactor with secret intentions that imperil the crew. Et cetera, etc. Though there’s no shame in a cliché or two, the film falters by never fleshing them out much. That’s not to say they need David Copperfield depths of biography, or subversion through postmodern deconstruction, but a little more personality would have been nice.
The closest the audience gets is the lead researcher with a tragic past, but there’s a shade too much mystery there as well. Rather than ominously implicative, the backstory becomes a notion tossed across the screen. It’s referenced in passing, typically when it might add mystery, but lacks details to be entirely tangible. It’s ultimately a cliché that never deepens the character, making the role less unique and relatable, more of a bland cog in this cosmic horror clockwork.
At risk of spoilers, part of the problem is a segment that has been left out. Gods of the Deep mentions a two-month training period for the crew of the submersible. Yet, it’s never shown, not even in a montage. Meanwhile, the audience is left to assume that during this time the various members have grown tightly connected and familiar with one another. That means every major relationship is established offscreen, particularly the characters Christine Harris and Jim Peters who immediately become a tightly knit pair. And this is a consistent problem throughout Gods of the Deep.
Still, that said, the performers themselves do a solid job of earnestly expressing their roles. Low budget movies like this are known for a certain lesser quality of acting. However, Gods of the Deep includes some solid performances.
Makenna Guyler and Derek Nelson are engaging as Christine Harris and Jim Peters. It would’ve been nice to see them get into some deeper dialogue. Tim Cartwright plays Gordon Atkins with a loveable saltiness. Chris Lines, as the enigmatic Jed Pickman, has a presence reminiscent of Christopher Lee in Hammer horror classics. Rowena Bentley portrays Julia Goldstein with the right mix of mysterious yet inviting. It’s easy to understand why people trust her character even when she’s keeping secrets. After Kane Surry loses his grip as Joe Meeker, it’s a uniquely interesting blend of hostile fear and madness. Last but not least, Rory Wilton does an impressive job of making Hank O’Connell a delightful character simply through the joy of sharing his creation, the submersible Providence 3.
All the performers provide an admirable seriousness that sells certain scenes. Even when sets clearly show signs of low budget restrictions, it’s frequently possible for those willing to take the trip to suspend disbelief. Though the visual elements may not rival big budget special effects, they at least aren’t bargain basement displays inducing a cringe or sarcastic chuckle. There’s a respectable effort on display. And in some instances, writer-director Charlie Steeds creatively works around those limitations.
Minor spoiler warning — at one point, the submersible malfunctions due to unknown interference. Fuzzy static obscures the visuals. As such, the crew must relay what they see back to the surface. The awe with which performers share the sight of ruins on the ocean floor does as much as any CGI ever could. Not to risk editorializing, but there are several instances where it’s clear Gods of the Deep would work remarkably well as an audio drama. Still, there are moments when it is hard to ignore the low budget quality of things.
Folks will really need to want to go on this ride. In that regard, Gods of the Deep may have a built-in audience waiting. The film is undeniably inspired by the Lovecraftian mythos. Although it doesn’t seem to be an adaptation of any one specific story, the movie borrows elements from various tales such as “At the Mountains of Madness”, “The Call of Cthulhu”, and perhaps a dash of “Dagon”. Fans of flicks inspired by Lovecraft may well enjoy Gods of the Deep, especially catching the easter eggs connecting it to that fictional realm.
Writer-director Charlie Steeds keeps the film running smoothly for the opening portion. The establishing narrative and beginning of the expedition are all compelling if a little hurried. It’s the midway point where things start falling apart as Gods of the Deep rushes through formulaic expectations and risible action rather than forging its own path. Things are said to be happening instead of showing them occurring as the movie races to the end. Granted, that rush means the movie never overstays its welcome.
Gods of the Deep tragically exceeds its grasp. Still, there’s a solid story here. Low budget limits are smartly avoided as best as possible but remain present in ways some viewers might not forgive. The cast does an admirable job of helping suspend disbelief, yet their roles rarely rise above cookie cutter characters. Although the movie maintains a quick pace, it’s racing through plot points rather than exploring themes or characters. Lovecraft fans may forgive it the most, but horror fans won’t find anything fresh.