Back in the nineties Stephen Sommers had a reputation for revitalizing genre pictures. The combination of snappy dialogue and left field plot twists were hallmarks of Sommers films, particularly the straight to video B-Movies he made. Today he’s best known for his Mummy films with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz which, regardless of being major blockbusters, still carried these signature traits. Deep Rising (1998) is a sort of forerunner to the special effects heavy The Mummy (1999), but with one foot still firmly planted in the tradition of the exploitation film.
Deep Rising is essentially another Aliens (1986) copycat, though this time set aboard a luxury liner off the coast of China. A legion of Ottoia have killed all but a few of the passengers before Treat Williams and his crew arrive with Wes Studi and his band of commandoes who are intent on robbing the ship and sinking it as part of Anthonry Heald’s scheme to get away with insurance fraud. This business with the commandoes and the fraud scam may sound like an over busy narrative, but it allows Sommers a means to explore the characters economically so the focus of the action can be the escape from the Ottoia infested ship.
One of the things that sets Deep Rising apart from other nineties genre pictures is that there is a pervasive masculine gaze. Famke Janssen, who plays a professional thief who survived the initial Ottoia attack, is never ogled by the camera. In fact Sommers even allows Janssen’s character a wardrobe change off screen. Add to that Sommers’ choice to let Janssen be everything but a damsel in distress and you’ve got the kind of female character that is the exception for this type of movie.
The other part of Deep Rising that sets it above most nineties low budget pictures is Sommers’ knack for unconventional scares and gross-out moments. In a scene when the Ottoia attacks the commandoes they open fire, blasting open the giant carnivorous worm, spilling out a half-digested, still living commando. Later, there’s even a long scene where Wes Studi is eaten that hits all the beats you’d least expect.
All of this doesn’t make Deep Rising a good movie, but it does make for a more engaging and enjoyable watch than one would expect. It’s pretty incredible what Sommers can do with so little. I almost wish he was still making these types of movies with low budgets and nothing to lose. Deep Rising belongs to the same class of above average nineties science fiction films as Nemesis (1992) and Species (1995).