Summer needs more snakes. In August of 2004, the ritualistic Tinseltown dumping ground, the world got lots of snakes. Gloriously rendered, sixty-foot-long, man-eating ones. Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, is the second installment in the long-running series, once a bonanza of A-list talent and B-movie thrills, but later reduced to Syfy Lake Placid crossovers and Yancy Butler star vehicles. A follow-up to the perennial “man versus snake” classic Anaconda in mostly name only– save for one passing reference to the events of the first– Blood Orchid is a high-concept, high-yield blockbuster creature feature that’s considerably better than its legacy would suggest.
Bill Johnson (Johnny Messner) leads a group of scientists (KaDee Strickland, Matthew Marsden, Nicholas Gonzalez, Eugene Byrd, Salli Richardson-Whitfield) into the jungles of Borneo. They are searching for the mythical black orchid, which can supposedly grant eternal life. Unfortunately, massive anacondas have been feeding on the orchids for years. When their boat goes over a waterfall, the scientists land right in the middle of the snakes’ home.
Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid stars an early aughts mid-tier-budget ensemble of familiar faces audiences have seen before from… that thing, I think (hold on, let me look it up) en route to the jungles of Borneo for the Perrinnia Immortalis, otherwise known as the Blood Orchid, a rare bloom that ostensibly holds miracle lifesaving properties. Led by intrepid adventurer Bill Johnson (Johnny Messner) and the coolest monkey sidekick this side of the nineties (looking at you, Sammy) the group travels down the river toward the bloom. Shady executive, Jack (Matthew Marsden, repeating the events of the first) convinces Bill to take an unsafe, quicker path. Soon, the boat falls over a waterfall– Blood Orchid delivers on the spectacle– and the crew, miraculously alive, are resultantly stranded in the dense jungles of Borneo (though it was filmed in Fiji).
An exceptionally fun blockbuster, Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid wastes no time getting straight to the thrills. In a standout sequence, the crew– unaware of just what kind of danger they’re in– wade through waist-high water toward the jungle. In a single-file line, they wade slowly and silently. The camera then pans overhead, and threaded between them all is a sixty-foot-long snake, obfuscated by the murky water. The crew continues to walk, unaware of the danger just beneath them. Ben (Nicholas Gonzalez) hums John Williams’s famous theme to Jaws before he is suddenly drawn under the surface. The crew looks for him to no avail before an enormous snake emerges, coils itself around Ben, and swallows him whole.
It’s a sensational sequence, the kind of snaky thrills audiences expected, and Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid only gets better from there. The acting is unusually good– not in a way that denigrates the genre, but more in the “there were nine credited writers” sense– and the tension remains suffocatingly high, no different than having the titular anacondas coil themselves around our throats. The deaths are unpredictable, the twists and turns sordid and operatic, and the early aughts blockbuster bonanza pretty snakin’ great.
Spiders bite unsuspecting researchers and paralyze them. Snakes wrap themselves up to procreate in a giant snake orgy of death. Boats explode. Monkies scream. It’s cheesy, gooey, sticky, silly fun. As noted, though, for all the fun, there are beats of genuine tension. In a claustrophobic, water-logged cave, the remaining survivors creep through, hopeful to get to the other side quicker than through the jungle.
Tran (Karl Yune) makes one wrong step and suddenly falls beneath the surface into some kind of hidden, underground lake. It’s a terrifying thought– thalassophobia in Borneo– and made all the more frightening as Tran struggles to breach the surface, unaware that the anaconda is underwater with him at that very moment. Anaconda’s: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, like its forbear, expertly balance B-movie thrills with first-class chills.
It’s the kind of movie we don’t get nearly enough of anymore. There’s Crawl and The Shallows in recent years, but the animal-versus-man subgenre has had a dearth of genuine, marquee outputs. The early 2000s were different, though. It was a time of wonder, majesty, and giant anacondas eating pretty dumb scientists in the jungle. Not every genre entry needs to break new ground, nor does every entry need to elevate itself with commentary and hegemonic critique. Sometimes– more than sometimes– it’s okay to just unleash an unusually large, inconsistently-rendered computer snake to chow down on some cable television delegates.
Anaconda’s: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid has become something of a comfort watch. A nostalgia-fueled creature feature, it never fails to entertain. It doesn’t have the star power, the tongue-in-cheek humor, or the still unmatched robotics work of the original, but it does have considerably more adventure. Silly jokes about bathtubs, archetypal muscular men saving the day, and damsels with flare guns and brawn. It’s archetypal, yes, but it’s almost venomous in terms of sheer entertainment value. What it lacks in Voight it makes up for in bravado. In Anaconda’s: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, the hunters become the hunted, though audiences won’t need to do much hunting of their own to find a gem in the rough. Anacondas are good. Anacondas are life.