Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Black Water (2008)

I’ve never really been a big fan of the “when animals attack” sub-genre. The characters in these films are usually stupid (and deserve to die) and they usually end up getting killed by an animal much smarter than them. I always hated how this far superior animal was simply killed in the end, even though the characters were so much less intelligent than it. It’s hard to enjoy or even be scared by a horror film if you hate the characters and can’t relate to their actions and are rooting for the “villain.” Yet, every once in a while a horror film in this sub-genre comes around that I particularly like…

How does the Australian film Black Water rate? You’ll have to keep reading to find out…

On holiday, sisters Grace (Diana Glenn) and Lee (Maeve Dermody) and Grace’s boyfriend Adam (Andy Rodoreda) take a road trip into the Australian countryside. They visit a crocodile farm before deciding to take a fishing tour on the flood-swollen river. Their guide (Ben Oxenbould) takes them out in a small metal motorboat, taking them all the way to an isolated mangrove lagoon. Before you can say “Gone Fishin’,” a big croc capsizes their little boat. Adam and Grace scramble for a nearby tree, but Lee gets stuck on the top of the overturned boat. The massive crocodile pokes its behemoth head out of the water to say hello, then dives back under to try and knock Lee off. Soon, the three friends realize that the croc has dragged off their guide and that they are miles away from anything and anyone. Can the three friends escape the croc’s clutches and make it out in one piece as opposed to in pieces?

For a killer croc movie, Black Water is a surprisingly tense and taut picture! It’s got high production values, great direction, likable characters and a scary crocodile! It’s based on a true story (read about it http://www.guardian.co.uk/weekend/story/0,,2241705,00.html) and actually stays pretty close to it. It’s also interesting to note that the filmmakers used real crocodiles for the majority of the film instead of CGI or other special FX. This lent a level of realism that was downright frightening! When I was watching the film, I marveled at the realistic-looking crocodiles, but it was only after the film did I find out that they were actually REAL!!

Speaking of the crocodile in the film, it takes on a persona all its own in the film. It is extremely menacing and seems to be psychologically playing with its prey and relishing their fear. In one scene it emerges from the water to show the survivors a chewed up corpse and the croc does it tauntingly, rubbing it in. In another scene, the croc pops out of the water to block the way of the survivors, kinda like he’s saying, “I don’t think so!” As for the rest of the characters, we really don’t get to know them all that much, besides the fact that one is pregnant. Despite the shallow characterizations, we still end up caring deeply for the trio. They are likable and their situation unimaginable, so it is quite easy to feel sympathy for them (yes, even when they do make stupid mistakes).

I thought all the actors did a good job with acting frightened, especially because for the first half of the film you don’t see the crocodile that often. Their confusion, panic and desperation feel very real, though I will say that some of the initial whining and crying gets old fast. Still, the actors did convey fear, anger, determination and more while still maintaining their believability.

Of course, some of the characters’ actions were a bit unbelievable. Why didn’t the group ever try and distract the crocodile by using one person as bait to lead it away from the boat while someone else went for it when the croc was preoccupied? And why did they always use the thinnest, most spindly branches to try and grab the boat’s rope? These and many other questions plagued the film, but the character’s sometimes silly actions didn’t ruin the entire film.

Overall, the film was nail-bitingly intense. Three people stuck up in a tree sure doesn’t sound like a very engaging movie, but the writing-directing team of David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki managed to create an ominous atmosphere full of tension. The two directors utilized several spectacular shots that put the viewer directly into the action. One scene in particular involved showing the point of view from a victim during the crocodile’s “death roll” – a roll that involves them biting their prey and dragging them underwater while the croc spins around several times, trying to drown its prey. I really thought this was an inventive and exciting shot that captured the ferocity of the predator. It felt like National Geographic on steroids! There are also lots of scenes of the murky swamp water that’ll have your toes curling imaging what lies in those depths.

I will warn you, though, Black Water is seriously lacking in the blood and guts department. All we get is a severed arm, a chomped-on body, a not-very-bloody croc bite, various scratches, etc., etc. There are no big bubbling pools of blood a la Jaws here, kiddies. In the context of the movie, though, the lack of gore works just fine. The tension and suspense are what really keep the film moving along.

Black Water is a pleasant surprise amidst the standard stupid “when animals attack” films. It delivers tension and suspense without having to resort to gore for entertainment and will put you on the edge of your seat!

Available from Amazon!

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