Within the first few minutes in the opening scenes of Pressure, the camera trains in on a sign hanging on board an oil rig off the oceans of Africa. It reads: "There are old divers and bold divers but not any old, bold divers." Directed by Ron Scalpello, the ominous, not-too-subtle portend sets the tone, but surprisingly, it doesn't ruin the anticipation of what's to come. Pressure was shown at the Glasgow Film Festival in Scotland.
It's gripping and suspenseful, adeptly building tension as the back stories of the main characters unfold in surprising ways. When people are put in untenable positions, survival can bring out the best and worst of all of us.
Danny Huston, Matthew Goode, Joe Cole and Alan McKenna are the scuba-diving sailors, each cursed with a hardened core. Each character emotes a sense of psychotic behavior. There's no shortage of hot-button issues that haven't worked themselves out in the therapy sessions that none of these guys would ever partake in in the first place. Each one possesses a deep, dark secret that emboldens them to embark on a lonely career at sea without family or friends, just shipmates.
Fresh from Imitation Game fame, Goode does an American accent as a Bible-loving goody two-shoes. He places his faith in God and the company they work for that a rescue team will come. Neither come through. Cole initially presents himself as the young, vain, seemingly superficial novice who turns out to have more backbone and more to live for than the others. Without the strength of the acting from all four talented actors, the rather simplistic plot might not have floated with the audience but it certainly does pull you along.
The plot is centered on a crew of four underwater divers who weld and repair oil supply lines deep on the ocean floor. They use a submersible to reach hundreds of feet below sea level, where a frantic swim upward to fresh air can burst your lungs into a million, bloody pieces. As a scuba diver myself, I know how the dangers of diving can kill you. You learn to rely on your own wits and technical know-how more than on any one buddy.
As a violent storm approaches the ship, a vital pipeline is fragmenting. The captain, played by Ian Pirie, orders the four men down to the bottom of the ocean, and none of them think it's a wise idea. To work as deep divers who weld in dark waters for a living, you might have to be a bit risky and unwise at times anyhow. They all demonstrate a fearlessness of water that can sometimes defy logic, as many scuba divers feel. After their work is done in the water, their submersible loses all radio contact with their mother ship above. Going out in the waters to investigate, Huston encounters his captain, not in any capacity to pull the submersible back to safety. He's floating dead on the bottom of the sea and the ship has sunk. What happens next is the crux of the story.
How the crew rescue and redeem themselves leaves an indelible mark with the audience. "What would you do?" is a question that inevitably goes through one's mind. In the vein of Open Water and 127 Hours, the survivalist film genre can be fascinating to follow. With strong acting, character development, and a riveting plot, Pressure sucks you into its depths and doesn't let you go.