Submergence review: Wim Wenders directs this romantic thriller film, based on the novel of the same name by J. M. Ledgard. 

Submergence review by Awais Irfan.

Submergence review
Submergence review

For his latest, Wim Wenders takes the helm for the adaptation JM Ledgard’s novel Submergence, directing heavyweights James McAvoy and Alicia Vikander in this romantic drama that boasts potential – two seemingly interesting characters torn apart by seemingly fascinating stories… However, sadly, this is a film that drowns upon arrival.

Whilst holed up in a hotel in France, Scottish spy James More (McAvoy) meets a professor, Danny Flinders (Vikander), and the pair instantly hit it off and quickly fall in love, desperate to see each other after their trips – More is off to disguise himself as a British aid worker in Somalia for a mission, whilst Flinders is preparing to embark on a mission of her own: to the bottom of the ocean, in the hopes of discovering new lifeforms. However, when the former is kidnapped by terrorists during his operation, the latter is left waiting for a message from her newfound lover that doesn’t arrive, unaware of his predicament, and finding trouble of her own beneath the Greenland Sea during her dive.

To start off with the good: Wenders’ latest is certainly shot nicely. It utilises a myriad of locations, each captured beautifully – from the sweeping depths of the ocean to the sun-scorched landscapes of Somalia. Benoit Debie’s cinematography is crisp and slick. The film is also capably performed too; Vikander and McAvoy are both strong individual talents and they’re good with what they have here. There is also good work from the supporting cast too, notably Celyn Jones and Alexander Siddig. However, that’s where the pros end abruptly. Yes, the performances are commendable. But the chemistry between this cast – or, sadly, lack thereof – is poor. For a film about a romance to work, we need to invest in the central romance and to do that, we need to believe it. But it’s hard to believe the romance when Vikander and McAvoy don’t sell that aspect at all – their relationship feels so contrived as if they were thrown in a room together and told to pretend to be in love. It’s inorganic and dull to watch.

The dialogue is stilted and often cringe-worthy. Because of how mawkish the screenplay is, it means that some characterisation is also awful; both Flinders and More are as paper-thin as characters can come, we don’t care for them or their stories at all which leaves Submergence feeling very flat and boring. Sadly, in the second act, when the stories separate, the film bites off more than it can chew and tries juggling so many more themes and ideas and genres than it already has on its plate (that it is already struggling with) – it tries to be part-espionage; part-terrorism commentary; part-underwater-sci-fi; all whilst trying to be a good love story too. There’s too much going on and such poor writing realising it all that the film fails to work on any single front and becomes frustratingly bland. Wenders tries to tell an investing love-story. However, it’s just bad. Submergence, despite its efforts, doesn’t work. With no actual substance or heart or depth to it, this is a sour affair that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Submergence review by Awais Irfan, March 2018.

Submergence was reviewed at the 2018 Glasgow Film Festival and will be released on May 18th, 2018.