The South China Seas are so deep that you could fit the Himalayas into them, and ships do occasionally disappear while sailing over it. The reason I mention this is the Argonautica is out in the middle of that ocean on its maiden voyage and headed for trouble, although only one person on board knows it. Meanwhile, a boat is speeding in its general direction, although the captain, Finnegan (Treat Williams) isn't aware of this - he's simply treating this mission like any other job and doesn't ask his passengers any questions. However, maybe he should as his right hand man, Joey (Kevin J. O'Connor) has ventured down to the hold and discovered that they are carrying a cargo of torpedoes. Danger awaits, although not in the way anyone could have imagined...
Looking for a good old fashioned monster movie with slick, nineties, computerised special effects? Then look no further than the unpretentious Deep Rising, the film written and directed by Stephen Sommers before he hit the big time with The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, and you can see the same corny but energetic activity in this, along with a wry sense of humour. Here it's more a cross between The Poseidon Adventure and Aliens, with the creature in question picking off the cast with wild abandon, and the cast in turn driven to distraction by the way their antagonist manages to block their every escape route.
Doing his best Harrison Ford impression is Williams, who leads the rogues' gallery of characters with a measure of roguish charm of his own. When Finnegan's boat reaches the Argonautica, they find something strange has happened and the now-aggressive passengers led by Hanover (Wes Studi), revealed as pirates, force the captain and Joey to climb aboard with them while Finnegan's right hand woman attempts to fix the damage caused by bumping into a stray speedboat. What was a speedboat doing in the middle of the ocean? And more importantly, why is the ship completely, so it seems, devoid of people?
We have seen the Argonautica being attacked by something that sucks women down toilets and sends everyone flying, but not everyone has gone. There is at least one survivor, Trilian (someone's a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fan), a glamorous pickpocket played by Famke Janssen who has been locked in a storage cupboard while all hell was breaking loose. And as Hanover's men do more exploring, their thoughts of raiding the safes for loot evaporate when they begin to be picked off one by one by an unseen thing that lurks beneath the surface of the floodwater. Like what? Like a mass of fanged tentacles, that's what.
Basically it's the old slasher movie set up, but here there's a knowing humour that thankfully never slides into smarminess or overplayed winking to the audience. O'Connor gets most of the funny lines as Joey is more or less Shaggy from Scooby Doo, complete with cowardliness and shaky voice but minus the insatiable appetite. However, a spirit of fun pervades the action no matter how gruesome things get, and if Sommers relies too heavily on the "there's something nasty behind the door!" cliché for tension, the stunts are well handled and the cast are in on the joke. For some reason, for his following films Sommers lost a lot of this pulp flair, far too wedded to his effects budget and exhibiting increasing and frustrating inanity. Music by Jerry Goldsmith.