Plunge treads familiar waters, wrapping a number of horror/sci-fi tropes into a grisly little tale that manages to be pretty damn creepy. There’s a reason why these tropes work and writer Joe Hill really makes the most of them here in a cinematic coil of dread.
Plunge revolves around the Derleth, an exploration vessel that disappeared into the briny deep forty years ago along with its entire crew. It’s not incomprehensible that something lost at sea for that long would stay that way, but the Derleth miraculously resurfaces following a tsunami, landing half atop a reef in a remote area near the Arctic Circle. Around noon every day, the Derleth sends a distress signal that reveals its position to its owner, Rococo International.
Rococo wants its property back and it hopes to get it before the Russians, who consider that particular Arctic region theirs, hear the signal and are able to divert enough resources to do their own salvage mission. That brings company man David Lancome, a shifty little fellow, to Captain Gage Carpenter’s salvage boat. Lancome offers to pay Gage and his crew, which includes Gage’s two brothers, a hefty sum for the risky mission. It is an offer the Carpenter brothers should, but cannot refuse.
As a big horror/sci-fi fan, I always find myself getting a little chill when it comes to an abandoned ship of any kind, be it space or sea. When you’ve got a vessel that serves as the mysterious grave of its former crew, you just know danger looms for whoever’s unlucky enough to find it first. Consider The Expanse, The Abyss, Event Horizon and, of course, Ghost Ship.
The other thing that always gives my spine a tingle is when our heroes are trapped in some extremely remote place where, as they say in Alien’s tagline, “no one can hear you scream.” The Thing’s Arctic research station and the Overlook Hotel come to mind here. This is often the case with an abandoned ship and Plunge is no exception. Where our team is headed, it’s cold, inhospitable and desolate.
Who’s our team? Well, it’s a classic mix of divergent personalities thrown together for the mission. The Carpenter brothers have little in common besides their shared profession. Gage is the gruff captain, Russell the intellectual introvert and Clark’s the plucky one who’s always got a quip handy. We’ve also got marine biologist Moriah Lamb, who serves as our smart, spunky leading lady; her partner, Bill; and the prim Lancome, who tags along despite the whole thing seeming very much not his cup of tea. They’re not all instantly likable, but they all care about the mission for their own reasons, and they’re all a bit deeper than first blush suggests.
There is never a moment where any of this feels like it’s going to be okay. The tsunami that surfaces the Derleth also causes several giant squids to breach, much to the horror of an unfortunate Coast Guard member and his dog who happen to be standing near the beach when it happens. There may be a practical explanation for this, but it’s straight-up Lovecraftian to behold.
Before joining the salvage mission, Moriah and Bill discover a group of worms they’re studying at the aquarium have suddenly gone rogue, cannibalizing each other with such viciousness that Moriah suggests covering up the tank so child visitors can’t witness it.
If that’s not enough foreshadowing, a ship presumably full of corpses calling out at the same time every day is extremely eerie, even if it is, as Russell suggests, merely an automated signal using its daily solar charge.
Every book published through Joe Hill’s Hill House imprint has been pretty unique, offering a variety of horror styles and art. For example, Basketful of Heads (also written by Hill) is a bloody exploitation story led by a resourceful and tough final girl, The Low, Low Woods is a dreamier body horror tale and The Dollhouse Family is a twisted horror-fantasy that unfolds over generations. They, like many genre stories, have lessons to teach us about friendship, trust or tenacity.
But Plunge is the scariest of them all and the lesson may be to just stay home. The wreckage and the scene that surrounds it are just so fraught with peril—it’s just not a place people belong. The ever-present chill is almost palpable in Stuart Immonen’s artwork. From the moment the crew arrives, we know they are doomed. Their story won’t end with a simple marooned ship and what happens next on this forsaken atoll will only slither deeper under your skin from there. But I think it’s best if you, like the crew, explore the rest of the ship on your own.
Juliet Bennett Rylah writes about horror comics and the dark side of superheroes for DCComics.com. For more from Juliet, be sure to read her recent piece on Carmen Maria Machado and Dani’s The Low, Low Woods and follow her on Twitter at @JBRylah.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Juliet Bennett Rylah and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.