Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Maeve Dermody, Diana Glenn, Ben Oxenbould
Directed by David Nerlich & Andrew Traucki
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Anyone who has seen Wolf Creek knows the remote outlying areas of Australia can be a pretty frightening place. It’s a film well worth mentioning here because the new Australian horror opus Black Water shares several similarities with it: you have a near identical base trio of protagonists, all relatively young people, 2 women, 1 guy. There’s a romantic angle in both films as well – in Wolf Creek, you had an attraction in the making born unexpectedly during a road trip. With Black Water, the male protagonist is with one of the women and she’s pregnant (she hasn’t told him yet).
Both films share the idea of something going terribly wrong on a road trip adventure. In Black Water, we follow our soon-to-be-new-parents and their amicable third wheel friend as they set out into what must be the Australian equivalent of the Louisiana Swamps, a place consisting of grey/brown, waist high water for miles that’s riddled with wiry tree formations that would be pretty much physically impenetrable without some kind of small boat to coast along the rivers in the otherwise dense scenery.
The big scare is the crocodiles – they’re huge suckers in this area. Even with an armed guide, this unfortunate group of sightseers is knocked overboard and menaced for days by a giant crocodile with a huge appetite.
Unfortunately, the events that unravel from there (which comprise the bulk of the movie) make for repetitive viewing. One of the biggest disappointments is that this undeniably remarkable geographical region looks dull and flat. It’s really too bad, because you can tell that the location was rich with aesthetic and claustrophobic potential. Towards the end, when most of the cast has predictably been consumed by the croc (this is a horror movie, I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that), the bloody condition of the lone survivor against the murky waters finally starts to paint an effectively horror-ish picture, one that actually looks quite good, but it’s at the very end of the last reel; far too little, far too late.
As for the action, it’s one of these ultra-minimal setting efforts, not far off from the stranded couple out in the ocean on the similarly titled Open Water. Here, the central dilemma of the stalking croc kicks in early on. But once that is established, the movie consists predominantly of people sitting or climbing around in trees and crying. And from my perspective, it’s not good, entertaining crying or screaming in the old TCM tradition; it’s more like mournful wailing and it goes on and on. Granted, this is probably a more realistic performance approach, but the sound of it just wore on me and got on my nerves. It even got comical at certain points – there’s one sequence where a survivor in a tree is watching a corpse float around face down, and they try to say “goodbye” to the bobbing body in a meaningful way. Myself and several others at the screening were laughing at this and other parts that were meant to be dead serious. Just goes to show, trying way too hard to do it for real has potentially bigger pitfalls than playing it for entertainment.
Like Wolf Creek, Black Water uses inserts of nature to add atmosphere, but again, it’s an element that just didn’t work for me. With Wolf Creek, there were endless minutes with literally nothing happening for the first two thirds of the film, with the occasional expositional cutaway to wandering or flying wildlife. And it was really scary, with nothing happening at all. Here, they try to do the same; lots of nothing happening, a crocodile in the water nearby, unseen under the murk for the most part, with occasional shots dropped in of birds in trees and dragonflies buzzing around or landing. But it wasn’t scary or tense. What exactly did Wolf Creek do that this film did not?
The gore and makeup FX, when they intermittently arise, are the one thing about the movie that’s really well done. There’s a couple of post-crocodile dinner corpse moments that look nauseatingly real, you can practically smell the rot, and there’s one of the grossest broken fingers I’ve ever seen in a movie. The crocodile, when you actually see it, is definitely one of the impressive things in Black Water. It looks highly realistic, right down to the way it moves over and above water and those creepy slimy eye cover things certain lizard species have. I think they must have done a lot of editorial substitution between prop/fake crocodiles and real ones. Most of the time I couldn’t tell which was which, and that’s a lot more than you can say when you look at the FX sequences of certain movies in the Jaws series, which was obviously another huge influence on this film.
But this brings another point of contention I have with the animal horror subgenre that Black Water represents at this juncture of history. I recently saw an interview with the director of a new documentary about sharks called Sharkwater. It was really terrible to hear him talk about sharks nearing extinction due to poaching and line-trawling for profit and whatnot. Is it really a stretch to say that this environmental and eco-disaster in the making is in part enabled by our cultural malevolence towards sharks because of Jaws? Look at the furor kicked up about baby seals being slaughtered; it’s because they’re cute. People at large don’t have the same emotional response to sharks being culled because they see them as monsters so it’s not as big a deal. Now we have the director of Sharkwater making it his life’s work to try and save shark species’ from extinction before it’s too late. I wonder if Spielberg feels kind of bad for making sharks the greatest monster alive to a lot of people now that this awful reality has come to light. At least he can be forgiven for making that movie in a time that was a lot more naïve to environmental catastrophes.
With that in mind, along with the increasing awareness of how much damage we’re doing to the animal life on this planet, do we really need more movies that paint specific species in a totally malevolent light? This film pushes its content in that direction by stressing that it’s “Based on True Events”. Well, here’s a real truth to consider: Crocodiles, big and scary as they are, are just big wild beasts that need to eat like all the rest of us. Maybe it’s time someone made a horror film from the animal’s point of view, with us as the real terrors of the world.
As for DVD extras, we get pretty much your standard stuff. Some deleted scenes, and a short making-of featurette, capped off with an audio commentary with the directors. Certainly not bad, but nothing to write home about either.
Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox now and wrap this up. This film might have fared better if it had a sense of humour about its predatorial antagonist, like Lewis Teague did with Alligator, but that’s not what Black Water is. I can’t recommend this movie, but if you’re not so concerned with the eco-morality angle as I am you might find it alright to watch, because it is watchable … as always, don’t take my word for it as the final one. Go and see it for yourself and make up your own conclusion.
2 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5
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