Go figure: you cannot easily watch James Cameron’s superlative film The Abyss (1989) on a streaming service – the closest you will get is the online stream of Australian pay television service Foxtel – but you can watch Juan Piquer Simon’s The Rift (1990). It is one of several suspiciously similar undersea thrillers that were released around the time of Cameron’s movie, including Leviathan, Deep Star Six, and The Evil Below (all 1989). Filmed that same year, The Rift was delayed 12 months. Not only did it miss the bandwagon, it was also the least accomplished of the knock-off productions. Most bad movies are at least technically proficient. The Rift, titled Endless Descent in some markets, does not entirely manage that. This is one for the masochists and the lovers of ‘so-bad-it’s good’ disasterpieces.
Submarine engineer Wick Hayes (Jack Scalia) is unwillingly brought back to the company that manufactured his designs when one of the vessels – the Siren I – goes missing during a deep sea mission. Sent with the Siren II to investigate, Hayes – along with veteran captain Randall Phillips (R. Lee Ermey), technician Robbins (Ray Wise), and ex-wife Ana Riviera (Ely Pouget) – uncovers a strange noxious weed growing deep inside a narrow rift.
There is no escaping how cheap The Rift looks. The submarine interiors resemble a kitted-out office building. Its exterior resembles a cheap model of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. Everything is designed – set, props, costume – without a modicum of creativity or effort. This is not an insurmountable problem. A decent screenplay and some thoughtful performances can overcome any budgetary limit or wobbly set. You can see where I am going with this, of course. The only thing less surprising than this review is the script to The Rift. When the most interesting parts of the script are the bits where the science makes no sense, you know a film has failed. The Siren II descending to 25,000 feet and then hitting an iceberg is one unintentional highlight. The submarine later descending slightly deeper than the ocean goes is another. They’re small amusements, but I suspect viewers will take what they can get.
In terms of the cast, some marquee value is gained from R. Lee Ermey and Ray Wise. Ermey, of course, is not an actor with a great deal of range. Wise is stronger, but he knows the kind of film he is in and performs accordingly. Everybody else is either disengaged, or a Spanish featured extra struggling to act it the English language.
It is strange that so many small production companies heard talk of The Abyss and assumed it was going to be the next big thing in popular entertainment. While the film did not flop upon release, it did under-perform against Fox’s expectations. None of its imitators got even close. Shooting with water is notoriously expensive, which The Rift manages to handle by barely featuring any scenes in the water at all. The most enthusiastic thing about it is its producers’ desire to profit off a perceived fad. Everything else is just woefully inept, and bored. One could argue that the film must have some merit, because I finished it. The thing is, I can turn a movie viewing into a review. Had I not had that opportunity I think I might have preferred looking at a wall; at least they are consistent, and generally well assembled.